Doing the Right Things Right: Focus

by Ron Potter
Image source: Hernán Piñera, Creative Commons

Image source: Hernán Piñera, Creative Commons

The sun is a powerful source of light as well as energy. Every hour of every day the sun showers the earth with millions, if not billions, of kilowatts of energy. We can, however, actually tame the sun’s power. With sunglasses and sunscreen, the sun’s power is diffused, and we can be out in it with little or no negative effects.
A laser, by contrast, is a weak source of light and energy. A laser takes a few watts of energy and focuses them into a stream of light. This light, however, can cut through steel or perform microsurgery on our eyes. A laser light is a powerful tool when it is correctly focused.
Leaders cease to be powerful tools when they are out of focus and their energy is dispersed rather than targeted. The following is a not-uncommon scenario:

You know the drill. It’s Monday morning. You arrive at work exhausted from a weekend spent entertaining the kids, paying bills, and running errands. You flick on your PC—and 70 new emails greet you. Your phone’s voice-mail light is already blinking, and before you can make it stop, another call comes in. With each ring, with each colleague who drops by your office uninvited, comes a new demand—for attention, for a reaction, for a decision, for your time. By noon, when you take 10 minutes to gulp down a sandwich at your desk, you already feel overworked, overcommitted—overwhelmed.

Rather than resembling a laser, too often we seem like the sun, just going up and down, splashing our energy anywhere and everywhere.

Focus management

David Allen, one of the world’s most influential thinkers on personal productivity, argues that the challenge is not managing our time, but managing our focus. He believes that with all that is being thrown at leaders, they lose their ability to respond. However, he is quick to add that most leaders create the speed of it all because we allow all that stuff to enter into our lives.
What happens to our energy? Allen says,

If you allow too much dross to accumulate in your “10 acres”—in other words, if you allow too many things that represent undecided, untracked, unmanaged agreements with yourself and with others to gather in your personal space—that will start to weigh on you. It will dull your effectiveness.

Not only will your effectiveness be dulled but so will your power. Instead of being like a steel-cutting laser, you will be like the sun, putting out energy with no focus. There needs to be focus because life is not just about running faster or putting out more energy.

The energy of stress

Another problem with unfocused energy is stress. When leaders are so wrapped up in all that is going on around them, they lose their ability to respond effectively. The stress comes from not performing at the level of expectation, which causes more stress. Leaders need to find ways to pull away or systematize the “stuff” so they can focus on leveraging their passion and realizing their goals.
Daniel Phillips, chairman and chief executive officer of SilverBack Technologies, says,

I’ve been innovating, building and growing start-ups for more than 15 years. I am energized by working with emerging technologies and have years of experience leading companies through the important growth phases from start-up to public offering or private placement, and beyond. Having led several ventures through these challenging phases,
I have learned that the most important leadership quality is “focus.”

With so much going on around leaders, focus may seem impossible or improbable to achieve. Employees, phones, pagers, e-mail, cell phones, problems, crises, home, family, boards of directors, and other people or things demand so much. We tend to spend our time managing the tyranny of the urgent rather than concentrating our efforts on the relevant and important things that make or break an organization.
So what should we do? Is it possible to better focus your focus?
The next few Monday blogs will focus on just this. Stay tuned as we zero in on what it means to focus.

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