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.

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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.

7 Things in Leadership That Require No Talent But Lead to Enormous Success

Oftentimes, we equate talent to what makes someone successful, leadership included.

When I got my first leadership role in an organization, I assumed I would be successful purely because I had natural leadership talent. But, boy, was I wrong. Not only did I fail, but I failed miserably because I tried relying on talent alone rather than strengthening my leadership skills.

The Leadership Quarterly performed a study on the skill set and human development within leadership, and the results showed that 24 percent of leadership skills are genetic and 76 percent are learned along the way. Essentially, the “natural born leader” is a bit of a myth. Instead, leadership is something that you can develop and grow through strengthening a specific set of skills.

Here are some things you can do to be a more successful leader that don’t require any special, magical talents embedded in your DNA:

1. Doing what you say you are going to do.  

It’s super irritating to a team when their leader says one thing and does another. While the position of leadership typically carries power and authority, it doesn’t give you the green light to be inconsistent.

No matter how big or small the thing is that you say you are going to do if you don’t do it erodes your credibility, builds distrust, and stifles momentum. Of course, we are all human and make mistakes. But the point is to be sure you aren’t known for being the leader who doesn’t keep their word.

Once you’ve lost trust, it’s difficult to gain it back.

2. Remembering the main mission of a leader.

Leaders have all kinds of responsibilities, but none more important than elevating others.

Fr. Mike Schmitz summarized it well on this week’s episode of the Follow My Lead podcast: “The primary mission of a leader is to raise people up around them both professionally and personally.”

3. Setting a good example.

There are many things you can’t control when it comes to leadership, and one of those is that people will look to you as an example. They are watching your every move like hawks, whether you like it or not.

It’s important you provide your team with something positive for them to emulate. Focus heavily on your actions each and every day to ensure they are worthy of being copied.

4. Having a great work ethic.

One of my favorite stories of a leader with a strong work ethic is NFL legend, Ray Lewis. He said in his recent speech Hall of Fame induction speech, “I wasn’t the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, but then I bought into something called work ethic.”

There are no shortcuts on the road to success. If you want to become a better leader, you have to do the work required to get there. Reading, practicing, and being intentional are all things a strong work ethic will take care of.

5. Giving off positive energy.

Author Mike Erwin, the founder of the Positivity Project, told me on a recent episode of the Follow My Lead podcast, “Because of the information we all live in, people are more in tune with all the challenges and negativity in the world. It has made it hard to be more optimistic in the world. So to be an optimistic leader who is relentlessly positive in the face of challenges is a true competitive advantage.”

Essentially, from the moment you walk into the office, your positive mindset is a competitive advantage.

6. Practicing intentional listening.

A great way to be a better listener is to pick one person and anytime they say something, keep eye contact and don’t interrupt them under any circumstance. It’s a powerful way to get focused on using your two ears instead of your one mouth.

7. Conducting one-on-ones.

Where most leaders drop the ball is spending one-on-one time with employees outside of a yearly performance review.

If you are in fact the busiest person on the planet and can’t carve out 10 minutes per month per person, use that thing in your pocket that has telephone capabilities. Don’t miss the opportunity in between meetings, waiting for a plane, or during your commute to call a team member on their cell phone and ask them a simple question: “How are you doing and is there anything I can do to help you?”

You don’t need to be born with any special leadership DNA to implement and practice all of these traits, and that’s the best part. If and when you do start following them, your year will be filled with a lot of success as a leader.

A Version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. He is also the author the upcoming book “Elevate Others: The New Model to Successfully Lead Today.” You follow him on instagram @johngeades.