When you lack focus, you’re going to grow resentful. You will be frustrated with failing to meet unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. You eventually start to question whether you are good enough or even have the talent to achieve positive outcomes.
Unfortunately, this is the situation many leaders find themselves in today. Aggressive revenue and growth plans have caused most leaders to try and accomplish too much at once. If you take nothing else away from this column, take this:
Talented teams will achieve ordinary results with unfocused leadership.
Common sense tells us that being open to more will provide more. But that rarely is the case. Bill Gates backed this up by saying, “Only through focus can you do world-class things, no matter how capable you are.” There isn’t an in-person or virtual leadership workshop that goes by that I don’t reinforce his wise words by telling participants, “leaders often don’t lack talent; they lack focus.” What I have learned from observing and coaching leaders is there are three levels of focus:
Three Levels of Focus
Level 1 Wide Focus: Wide Focus, the lowest form of focus. Leaders and professionals with level 1 focus have difficulty prioritizing what’s most important. They aren’t sure which direction to go, so they often go in whatever direction looks most accessible and most appealing at a particular time. Usually, the wide focus creates a “shiny penny” view of their business or team. Unfortunately, due to their lack of focus, everything looks appealing or worth exploring. There are times when “diamonds in the rough” are found, but it’s few and far between.
Level 2 Moderate Focus: Moderate Focus is good, not great. Leaders and professionals with level 2 moderate focus have a good sense of direction and find it easier to say no to things or opportunities that would have them lose focus. They typically have a solid list of priorities, but sticking to them and working on the right things daily can be challenging.
Level 3 Narrow Focus: Narrow focus is the highest form of focus, and it’s precise. Leaders and professionals with level 3 narrow focus have priorities and perspective. They know precisely where they or their team are trying to go. They are on a mission, and it’s challenging to get them off of it. They have a daily and weekly system they rely on. They communicate that plan to ensure everyone stays on the same page and executes at the highest possible level.
Regardless of what level of focus you find yourself or your organization in today, there is no judgment because staying focused is hard work. The reason why is because it’s harder to keep focused than to explore distractions.
It’s harder to stay focused than explore distractions.
It takes discipline, accountability, systematic thinking, and vision to reject opportunities to explore distractions. If that wasn’t enough, according to research, our attention span has markedly decreased in just 15 years. In 2000, it was 12 seconds. Now, 15 years later, it’s shrunk significantly to 8.25 seconds. In fact, scientists believe we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, who can focus on a task or object for 9 seconds.
However, just because it’s hard to stay focused doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for it. Here are a few ways to help you, including Leadership Focus Tool. Download it for free here.
1. Know the Mission
Alone is a documentary show produced by The History Channel and streamed on Netflix. The premise is that ten people are sent into the wild independently at the same, and the one who survives being alone the longest wins $500,000. It’s a fascinating show about human resolve, problem-solving, and overcoming broken beliefs.
Beyond these, it’s all about the mission. Each participant agrees to take on the challenge because the mission is clear, “last the longest in the wild and win $500,000.” Because they know the mission, they create priorities to improve the odds of winning.
2. Define the Priorities
It isn’t easy to achieve any mission without knowing the priorities required to get you there. In the case of “Alone,” each participant immediately focuses their priorities on safety, food, and shelter. It doesn’t matter what you do, what size organization you work in, or what size team you lead; if there are more than five priorities, that’s too many to execute well.
If leaders have more than five priorities, that’s too many for a team to execute well.
What priorities allow you to do is “keep the main things the main things.” Personal priorities might look something like this:
An example of Work Priorities that I wrote about in Building the Best look something like this:
- Excellent Employee Experience
- Exceptional Customer Experience
- New Revenue Generation
- Innovation and Development
3. Execute Key Initiatives
In the end, it’s not intentions that matter its execution. It’s not the plan, it’s the execution of the plan. Many excellent books like Eat the Frog, The 5 AM Club, or Atomic Habits highlight habits, actions, and execution as keys to success. One of my favorite lines on the subject is from author Austin Kleon, “Lots of people want the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.”
Lots of people want the noun without doing the verb. – Austin Kleon
The best leaders and elite teams execute key initiatives against the priorities. They aren’t afraid of doing the verb because they know it’s what’s required for them to be successful.
The most exciting part of focus is it’s entirely within your control. Dwayne Johnson said, “Success at anything will always come down to this: focus and effort. And we control both.”
Regardless of how focused you have been in the past, what I want you to be concerned with is how focused you will be starting today by knowing the mission, defining the priorities, and executing key initiatives.
Keep leading your best.
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Free Leadership Focus Tool There is nothing easy about staying focused. So we put together a quick tool to see how focused you are. Download it for free here.
About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.