Don’t overlook or underestimate these two fundamental attributes . . .
- Maintaining intense and sustained focus
- Commitment to practice continuously
This post continues my discussion of the disciplines an effective leader must have. Discipline 1 is the ability to make commitments over time. Discipline 2 involves two fundamentals – the ability to sustain focus and commitment to practice.
Baseball players must focus on fundamentals, the core basics of the game – continuously throughout their entire careers. With intense focus and ongoing practice, they increase the likelihood that they’ll have highly successful, long-lived careers. With few exceptions, anyone who reaches a level of mastery in their field does exactly the same thing. It’s not sexy, not particularly fun, but you can’t become the leader you strive to be if you don’t buy into this philosophy. To quote my last post – “we aren’t born with discipline – we have to acquire it. Leadership, like any other learned skill, has its fundamental disciplines. These must be learned and reinforced, despite the level of innate talent you’re born with.”
Maintaining Intense and Sustained Focus
In my experience I’ve found that many people consider this attribute a given, but it shouldn’t be minimized. Unless you’re notoriously lucky, you can’t keep moving forward in the direction you’ve charted without keeping your gaze firmly focused on the “horizon” — no matter what else happens. This ability demands many things. . .
The ability to maintain focus starts with basic self-awareness.
My consulting group held a learning session recently for a group of budding entrepreneurs — eager, energized people who are building businesses, careers and a whole new world. We led them through an exercise where they had to focus solely on their thinking. They looked at where they were passive, reactive, proactive or predictive (more to come on this subject in the future). The takeaway was that many of them became aware of tasks or activities they routinely didn’t do — or did do, that they weren’t really conscious of doing.
Self-awareness requires reflection and is a necessary practice for leaders. Achieving confidence and transformation requires it. I strongly encourage you to develop a regular reflection practice. My experience has shown that your investment will pay off. Reach out to us at The Heartwood Group or search online for some good tools for making this a practice. The paperback version of our ACTIVE TRANSFORMATION book actually comes bundled with a journal. The book’s approach is based on self-reflection and many of our clients have found significant value in working through it.
Self-awareness requires reflection and is a necessary practice for leaders.
If you’re familiar with the Heartwood Group’s Blueprint Discovery process, you know that after you identify your Current State and Future State you can readily see what falls in the gap. (If you’re not familiar with this tool, take a look at previous blog postings or check out the ACTIVE TRANSFORMATION book.) Once you’ve prioritized your gap items, you can build a simple 1-Page Plan for each. If you keep your 1-Page Plans at the forefront and use them as a dynamic accountability tool, you’re practically guaranteed that your time, effort and resources will be prioritized the right way. I’ve seen this work time and time again in my practice.
Although your priorities and goals may be clearly established, they may shift depending on the bigger picture. Part of maintaining the right focus is to know when you have to “step back” and view situations from a broader lens. Only then can you effectively re-focus on the “right” moves. If you don’t, you may fall into a very common pattern of sub-optimization, which is simply working on something that makes you feel good but doesn’t increase real output for the given system.
Part of maintaining the right focus is to know when you have to “step back” and view situations from a broader lens. Only then can you effectively re-focus on the “right” moves.
Selective Information Intake
Data is not necessarily knowledge. Most importantly data is not truth. Massive amounts of unfiltered data will overload and distract you, not serve you. When we look for data to prove our predetermined ideas we bend the data to fit our paradigm. We often already know what we need to do or should do, but we look for data to talk us out of the road less traveled. Our discontent and need for comfort drives our need for data.
Use Technology but Don’t Let it Use You
Use everything you need to do your job efficiently. Take advantage of every app, device, platform, whatever. Just don’t let technology unnecessarily eat away at your finite bank of time. 24/7 connectivity carries with it great advantage as well as enormous time-sucking traps. Remember, rest and work, rest and work…good music always has some rest signs between the notes. Otherwise a symphony just becomes a cacophony of noisy gongs, brass sections and no orchestration of the instrument sections.
Consider Getting Up Earlier
Mom or Dad may have first introduced this concept to you. Or maybe it was Benjamin Franklin (“early to bed…early to rise”) who is said to have gotten up every morning at 5am after wearing his clothes to bed so he could start working as soon as he got up. You don’t need to go that far – just give yourself the time, space and quiet to reflect and focus on the day ahead of you, no matter what time your day starts. I have a friend who is a true night owl. His creative time is best between 11pm to 2am. Find your space.
. . . give yourself the time, space and quiet to reflect and focus on the day ahead of you, no matter what time your day starts.
Get a Coach If You Have Difficulty With Any of This
And finally, no matter how great a leader you are, this stuff doesn’t come naturally to many people. If you have trouble getting and maintaining the level of focus required for you to get where you need to go, consider working with a coach, who can hold you accountable to the future you want. Professional coaches are trained to help you process your challenges and opportunities into effective action. We all need support to truly change and go after our best future.
Commitment to Practice Continuously
No matter how long you’ve been in business, how successful you’ve become, or how smart you know you are, don’t ever stop doing those foundational things that form the backbone of continuous success. Even the most elite athletes never stop practicing – elite leaders don’t, either. I think a first step for many of us is to reframe how we see our businesses or professions. It’s easy to see lawyers, nurses, doctors, and accountants being involved with a practice. They need certifications, continuous learning and effective processes that they must keep practicing. I’ve spent most of my last 20 years encouraging leaders and business owners to see themselves as practitioners. When they make this shift, they open a completely different mindset on staying effective and accountable. Following are some very recognizable things that you may not have seen as practices. It’s not a complete list, and I often want my clients to unearth and name practices for themselves, which makes them the designer and owner.
When leaders and business owners see themselves as practitioners, they open a completely different mindset on staying effective and accountable.
How many of us avoid planning because plans change? We all go through this adventure of frustration with our plans going awry. I finally learned why I plan; it’s not for the “planned” things. I plan so I can deal with and take advantage of “unplanned” things, which can be problems or opportunities. Planning takes time. Checking in and adjusting our plan also takes time. Don’t wing it – this is an essential practice if you want to maximize your capacity to deliver on your promises.
When we think of planning as just a strategic action, we can make it too long term, which in and of itself gives us reasons to not do it. This is a discipline that covers all time horizons and is not about being rigid or unbending. Planning enables leaders to make decisions that increase the possibilities of achieving their preferred future. Plans need to be put into perspective and not used to limit our possibilities, but increase them!
Planning is an essential practice if you want to maximize your capacity to deliver on your promises.
Core Organizational Skills
This practice is closely related to planning, yet different. Planning is process driven — organizational skills are about structure and efficiency. Ontologically we all are organized in some way, but it’s not always the optimal way. We get organized around our tasks versus our values and objectives. Busy-work instead of being-work might be one way I would describe it. Organizational skills can be as simple as keeping your desk clear. We don’t think about our desk or work area “organizing us” to be either focused or messed up and scattered. In one sense our environment can “coach” us to be disorganized.
Digitization of your work is one aspect that I have seen lacking for many clients. They don’t set up a taxonomy for how to store important documents or tools for retrieval. I’ve been there. Somehow we can get our minds wrapped around having an orderly spice pantry, but our computer is something we allow to be a mess which soon begins to manage us — rather than a useful tool for creating value in our lives and work. I have used organization coaches to help me get set up and I follow core organizational practices. If you don’t value these skills you’re wasting time.
In one sense our environment can “coach” us to be disorganized.
Processes can be embedded into many of our actions. Each process should have a clear goal, and doesn’t need to be complicated. Use process as part of your practice when it advances your ability to achieve success with a client’s outcomes –or makes you a more efficient and effective leader. Discovery, strategic thinking, implementation and execution are the underlying elements that are involved in this framework of practice.
Here’s another area we think of as a natural existing element and spend little conscious time understanding. Start thinking about listening as a practice and you will give yourself to a lifetime of improvement. So much of our own perspective impacts our ability to truly listen. How we listen is often not even a consideration. We listen for things that reinforce our own ideas. Listening from nothing seems a bit strange, but that’s how we begin to detach our own bias and see what shows up in a conversation. I could devote another blog post entirely to this area. Much has been written about the importance of being a good listener — in the end we must practice it. Over time we will see that our listening skills alone can define us and become the strongest part of our toolbox as a leader.
Start thinking about listening as a practice and you will give yourself to a lifetime of improvement.
Do you think that this is hard? I know several people who find it a bit overwhelming. They over complicate the process. We overlook our existing relationships as the base to start growing this practice and skill. Think about how many people your closest contacts are connected to. Then multiply from there and you see the “Kevin Bacon 6 Degrees” factor is not some comic gig. It’s as real as it gets! Setting goals in this area starts to put some legs on networking.
For example, make it your goal to take someone to coffee once a week and see what happens. Ensure your networking has a purpose, which could be learning or collecting qualitative research on your ideas. You might make a request of that person, but be careful with this one. The real value of networking is that it creates power beyond our own little thoughts and ideas. The best way to network is to help others with their needs and be oriented to help them with their hopes and dreams.
The real value of networking is that it creates power beyond our own little thoughts and ideas.
Recently I had a young woman contact me with interest in growing her consulting business. I asked her several questions, but one seemed most provocative. I asked, “What is your learning plan? Where are you investing in yourself to expand your ability and capacity to serve your clients?” We often approach learning in our own self-centered way. Not selfishly, but we don’t do it in context of what we need to become better for others. Learning can be as simple as reading. It can take place through networking. An established learning practice is essential for a disciplined leader. You need to have breakthroughs, so that others you work with can have breakthroughs. Otherwise we can all become stale and a bit behind the times.
What practices do you have?
- What areas/tasks are easy for you to maintain focus on?
- What areas/tasks are hard?
- Is there something that consistently causes you to lose momentum or focus?
What do you need to practice more to achieve