Why the Best Leaders Refuse to Lose Focus

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

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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:

  1. Faith
  2. Fitness
  3. Family
  4. Work

An example of Work Priorities that I wrote about in Building the Best look something like this:

  1. Excellent Employee Experience
  2. Exceptional Customer Experience
  3. New Revenue Generation
  4. 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.  

Closing

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.

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

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.

7 Skills You Should Develop to Be an Effective Leader

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Skill development is a never-ending process. Not only do the great ones in any field recognize this, but they have a borderline obsession to develop and improve their skills daily.

Merriam Webster defines a skill as “the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.” Skills are often divided into domain-general and domain-specific. For example, golf is a general skill; driving, putting, and chipping are specific skills that make someone an effective golfer.  

Leadership is a general skill; whereas, many domain-specific skills like coaching and empathy make a leader effective in performance. As a leader, you learn new skills every day. However, simply mastering a few skills isn’t enough to be a highly effective leader in today’s environment.

Just mastering a few skills isn’t enough to be a highly effective leader in today’s environment. 

As a ten-year veteran in the leadership coaching and speaking industry, I have been fortunate to have a front-row seat to many great leaders across various industries. If that wasn’t enough, the SkillsLoft Leadership Assessment has provided unbiased research of thousands of leaders. I want to share the seven leadership skills that are the most essential to your success.  

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Demonstrate Empathy

While many skills are essential in this new leadership era, empathy stands above the rest. Before you shake empathy off as a weak skill, let’s get clear on what it is, in the context of leadership. I have come to define it as how well you identify with others to understand their feelings and perceptions in order to guide your actions. I often describe it to coaching clients as “your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act differently because of it.”  

The one thing that every professional wants is to be understood, especially by their boss. 

Empathy is a critical leadership skill because people want to be understood, especially by their boss.

Feelings aren’t always directly communicated, so understanding them can be difficult to do and it’s an art that requires practice. If you want to improve your empathy skills, take a few lessons from an earlier column

Be a Great Communicator  

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams leverage the proper amount of communication and are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Consistent communication is tough, even for good orators. So often, quality communication is a skill that leaders believe they possess; in actuality, it is one of their most significant weaknesses. 

When leaders don’t communicate effectively, team members fill the silence with their own story.

Developing your communication skills around storytelling, writing, and listening is a lifelong journey. 

Act Like a Coach

A leader separates themselves from a manager in today’s modern business environment by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach their team members have never been more critical than they are today. If coaching is a skill, you want to improve, check out the new Coaching for Excellence Program here

Model Servant Leadership

It might seem odd to read that modeling something is a skill, but it’s not. We have all heard the saying, “talk is cheap”; it’s never been more true than in leadership. The best way to create more leaders is to model outstanding leadership in one’s actions and behaviors.  

“The best way to create more leaders is to model servant leadership in your actions and behaviors.”

How you exemplify the standards and behaviors you expect from your team is connected to how committed you are to living out your character and values. This is easy to write, but to do it well takes immense wisdom and self-discipline daily.

Have Great Focus

If there is one thing this Pandemic has taught us, it is how easily distracted we are. Staying focused and prioritizing is not only a skill, but it’s essential for leaders today. If you are anything like me, you suffer from “shiny penny syndrome,” and you act like a squirrel moving quickly from one thing to the next. 

Suzanne Anschutz, Regional VP and Director of Leadership Development at Cora Physical Therapy, said it well, “The leaders of today need to be able to be fully present. There is such a strong sense of urgency and moving quickly in today’s world, but we should not underestimate the power of taking the time to be present in the moment. Understanding what is happening “right now” will allow you to strategize for a better future.”

Unite People and Create Belonging

Making people feel like they belong and uniting team members is a leadership superpower. Look no further than the hit show Ted Lasso on Apple TV. The show portrays an American coaching a European Soccer club. Coach Lasso knows the team can’t and won’t succeed without the team members feeling like they belong, and are a part of something bigger than themselves.  

While Lasso does his coaching in person, most managers don’t have this luxury today when leading a remote team. For those teams that plan on staying 100% WFH, leaders must think about one or two in-person events a year, with its primary mission to create teamwork and belonging. 

Make Accountability an Obligation

Last but certainly not least is accountability. Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here or join an upcoming Leverage Accountability Workshop.

Closing

There are many other key leadership skills that just missed the list like; decision-making, emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, and vision. Which of the 7 key skills do you believe are most important? Which skills are missing that deserve to be on the list? Tell me in the comments.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

Coaching for Excellence: Ready to improve your coaching skills? Get the tools, the frameworks that the best coaches in the country use to grow and develop your people! https://bit.ly/3wCR8nF

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.