Your ultimate advantage: The power of focus – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Your ultimate advantage: The power of focus

It has been said that if everything is important, nothing is important. As a leader, what are the two or three things that are most important to you? What are your passions? What legacy do you wish to leave? Do these things get the greater part of your energy, time, and attention? If not, then you are on the road to mediocrity as a leader. That single-purpose focus is the source of formidable leadership power. At its purest level, it is, as Martina Navratilova expresses: “I try to concentrate on concentrating.” It is a dedicated, disciplined, and targeted focus of attention.

Successful leaders are very adept at practicing this laser-like focus of attention. Bill Gates declared once that part of his success is certainly due to the fact that he focuses on a few things, something echoed by Eric Schmidt of Google who said: “I keep things focused. The speech I give every day is, ‘This is what we do. Is what we are doing consistent with that, and can it change the world?’”

To achieve that power of focus, you need to first have a high degree of clarity about what truly matters. Over the years, we accumulate beliefs, practices, habits and other intellectual and emotional burdens that no longer serve us. We need to recognize these and shed them. It’s akin to periodically purging your Inbox from un-needed items and emptying your trash folder. Imagine the sense of renewal and freedom of focus that you would have if you periodically and consistently performed this form of mental housekeeping – if you ruthlessly budgeted your attention to allocate it on only what matters.

You need to be ruthless about what you decide to concentrate on, setting aside anything that does not contribute to the achievement of your goals. This is leadership on steroids: having total clarity about what is crucial and then deciding to be intentional on what you choose to notice, developing a specialized mental vision which will allow you to emotionally and intellectually see just what you need to see to achieve your purpose.

Just like birds have excellent binocular vision for judging distances, so you develop an ability to focus on only what will help you to go the distance. This means, for example, not wasting energy rehearsing the past and staying in the present and future. Take an inspiration from Marie Curie who stated: “I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.”

Just as you gain power by what you focus your attention on, so you dissipate your power by not being aware of your habits. What habits form you? Examine these carefully: are any of these diluting your power to achieve your goals on a consistent basis? What would change in your life if you resolved right now to start each day by asking yourself and responding to these two questions: what are the most important things I need to focus all of my attention on today to be successful? What can I do today to bring me closer to getting the results I want in these important areas? Then imagine yourself zooming in on those areas and directing all of your focus toward getting the results you want. What might you accomplish at the end of one year with this strategy?

Understanding your focusing habits will allow you to determine what you need to compensate for and will pay dividends. For example, if you have a habit of being detail-oriented, you may fall prey to the greatest prodigality, wasting an inordinate amount of precious time on painstakingly focusing on data at the expense of the wider, long-range ramifications. That automatic focus of attention may prevent you from seeing all the possibilities in front of you and therefore, erode your power.

Take charge of your focus and resolve to develop your time leadership competence by being on the alert about your habitual inclinations – and that includes intrusive, unwanted thoughts. You may, at times, find yourself in a situation where you don’t have total control over the complexity and forces that govern your particular context. There is one aspect, however, that you always have total control over and that is your thoughts, being particularly aware how thoughts drive your emotions and how your emotions can divert your focus and dictate your actions. Being sentient, that is, consciously perceiving and developing your choice-making consciousness, is a powerful advantage indeed.

We encourage you to be on the alert for recurrent, intrusive thoughts that divert your focus of attention. Resolve to keep purging these from your mental operating system as soon as they surface; be determined to direct your attention towards a central point of focus – totally concentrating on what makes a difference. What ding will you put in your own universe? What you focus on grows.

  • What do you want to grow?
  • What are three to five areas that, if you decided to bring into focus, would make a significant difference in your power to lead?
  • Are there any important relationships that you need to bring into sharper focus in your leadership journey?
  • Are the people who support you occupying a focal point?
  • What about those who challenge you? What might you gain from focusing some of your attention on them?
  • What would happen if you take a step back and focus on the bigger picture of your life? What do you see? Is it where you want to go?

Gregg Thompson is president of Bluepoint Leadership Development (greggthompson@bluepointleadership.com) and Bruna Martinuzzi is a senior facilitator with Bluepoint Leadership Development (brunamartinuzzi@bluepointleadership.com). The article is adapted from the book, The Power to Lead: Lessons in Creating Your Unique Masterpiece.

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