Focus Leadership – the secret driver of success

By Terence Mauri

“Without focus the best teams remain dormant. There is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks” Anonymous.

It’s time to focus on focus. I recently coached a senior executive who was literally running as fast as he could. With only 480 minutes in an 8hr day, he was sacrificing attention to detail and time to step back, reflect on the big picture, and truly think strategically and long-term.

There are three types of focus every leader must have. 1. Future focus – looking ahead over the hills. 2. Present focus – dealing with the present and 3. Past focus – this is the discipline of reviewing results and continuous improvement. Rarely are we adept at all three. Where speed is often celebrated, humans are finding it increasingly difficult to focus.

Professor Susan Greenfield, eminent Professor at Oxford University observes that battle for attention and constant distractions make it more difficult to stay focused on what’s important. Leaders become more reactive and less reflective leading to a culture of urgency.

Take a few moments to evaluate what you’re working on right now. Is it the right priority? How focused are you on a scale of 1 – 10?

Let me offer you a simple definition of Focus Leadership.

‘Focus leadership is about achieving exceptional results through the power of focus. It requires leaders to use both big picture and detail thinking’.

If you operate at high intensity, under pressure, for long hours, you inexorably burn down your best resources, your energy reservoir – and you begin to rely instead on the physiology of fight-or-flight: adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. The prefrontal cortex shuts down in fight-or-flight, your perspective narrows and your primitive instincts take over.

If you’re a leader, here’s where you need to start.

Big Picture Thinking Versus Detail Thinking

McLaren are obsessed with focus. The speech leaders give every day is: ‘This is what we do. Is, what you’re doing, consistent with that and does it change the world’? Senior managers invest precious managerial energy ensuring the team have 100% clarity on direction and priorities. They are aware of the dangers of focus drift and lack of clarity – two major derailers of performance.

The late Steve Jobs of Apple is another stalwart of the power of focus. As the new $5bn Apple Campus II Headquarters known by locals as the ‘spaceship’ comes to completion, it’s easy to understand how Apple uses focus as a unique source of competitive advantage. The building has ‘thinking zones’ and ‘greenhouse spaces’ to encourage future focus as well as attention to detail.

Take Productive Pauses

It’s important to build ‘think time’ into your day. One of my senior clients regularly schedules 10 minute thinking blocks into his busy week. The net benefit includes a clear sense of purpose and time to focus on the big picture.

Delegation Hour

Let’s face it, sometimes it can seem quicker to just hold on to everything. The ‘delegation hour’ is a symbolic initiative which prompts you to let go of certain high effort/low value activities you may be working on. It forces you to engage with your talent and develop through the power of delegation.  A CEO client confessed to me that learning to let go was one of the most challenging transitions to do from the position of manager to leader. However, he recognised that leaders had a basic duty of care to delegate.

Chief Enabling Officer

Show your team what the plan is and how their contributions make a difference. A CEO is not just a Chief Executive Officer. They are a Chief Enabling Officer.

To sum up, focus is a hidden driver of executive success. In the 21st Century, it’s all too easy to focus too much simply reacting to the now leaving the future to chance.

Focus leadership will help you achieve your goals. Are you ready to focus?

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Terence Mauri is a CEO Coach and leadership expert working with top executives around the world. You can reach him on Twitter.

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