What is the most scarce and decisive resource for any leader? Many will say “time”. Based on recent researches, I would answer “focus” or “attention”. Daniel Goleman (yes, the promoter of the emotional intelligence model) states that mastering our focus, in a world in which we are bombarded by stimuli and distractions (sensory or emotional), is the key to professional success and achievement.
Attention is, indeed, a limited and selective capacity. It’s what allows us to concentrate on our tasks. The web, the social and mass media content or apps notifications are constant sources of requests to our brains. In contexts of crisis and pressure (ex. the pandemic), it drives us to be permanently wired, trying not to lose anything (supposedly) important. All this disperses our attention and makes us feel lost with an avalanche of information that, paradoxically, mitigates real knowledge. At the same time, multitasking (a hot topic today) originates shorter periods of concentration, which prevents us from dedicating time the our high-priority goals. Leaders should also be aware of the impact of “noise” in analysis and decision making processes. Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002) underlines the negative influence of individual factors such as the current mood, biases and preconceptions or unconscious thoughts – that ultimately generate variability in leadership judgments.
These two phenomena, lack of focus and noise, are independent. But both intersect and mutually reinforce each other, affecting leadership performance – on empathy, on Managing relationships in the workplace, on internal communications and, essentially, in good decision-making.
To mitigate noise, Kahneman proposes noise “audits” and complement human judgment with some rule or algorithm (which brings useful ingredients to the process). Based on the knowledge recently generated in the neurosciences, Goleman underlines the importance of reinforcing three types of focus: internal, for our self-awareness (our thoughts, emotions and feelings); at a second level, through empathy (focusing on the other part); and an external one, to understand systems/contexts in which organizations operate (their variables and driving forces). And, I would add, leaders should always be aware of the variables they can influence and those they can’t – thus focusing their time, emotional energy and talent on what they can really impact . Practices such as coaching, mentoring and meditation can certainly help on these challenges.
Managing Partner of Darefy – Leadership & Change Builders