As the new year begins, it’s a perfect time to improve your ability to pay attention. As Daniel Goleman says in The Focused Leader in Harvard Business Review, “A primary task of leadership it to direct attention.” But pay attention to what? And why?
Neuroscience tells us that we focus in a variety of ways, to various things, for many different reasons. Ever moment we are focusing on something, the key is to understand the impact and learn how to ensure you’re paying attention to the right things to achieve your goals.
Attention can be divided into three main areas, each with it’s own uses…and failures if used poorly or totally ignored. Together they enable you to pay attention appropriately depending on the outcome you’re aiming for. Oddly, they both work together and against each other depending on the situation. Management excellence requires the effective use of each, independently and together.
Focus on yourself: The ability to be self-aware and understand your inner voice, your body’s signals, your gut feelings.
Focus on others: The ability to be aware of what others need, to understand their perspective, to know what they feel.
Focus on the world: The ability to notice the world around you, to listen well and ask good questions, to project into the future.
Focusing on one to the exclusion of the others blinds you to part of the reality around you. It causes you to be unaware of important information that will lead to better decisions. You lose your ability to accurately read and understand yourself, others, and/or the world around you.
As we rise in power you tend to become more self-referential, our attention develops blinders. We miss more and more of importance and so don’t notice when things begin to deteriorate. Lack of attention sets the stage for our downfall.
At the same time, as we have access to more and more information instantly, we lose the ability to pay attention to anything for long enough to truly absorb and understand it. We take shortcuts that lead to missing things of importance. The volume causes us to overload. We know more and more facts but often have less and less knowledge.
As Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate Economist said years ago, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
The most important thing about attention is to be aware of it’s impact on all you do. You can’t control all that distracts from focus and attention but you can be aware of it and act accordingly. You can control what you focus on and manage your attention to ensure you balance attention to self, to others, to the world.
To again quote Coleman, “failure to focus inwardly leaves you rudderless, failure to focus on others leaves you clueless, failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”
Control your attention…and have better control over the results you achieve.