Attention is the basis of one of the most essential leadership skills, i.e., emotional Intelligence. Research in neuroscience explains that humans can focus in different ways depending on the purpose; attention, can thus be categorized as focusing on yourself, focusing on others, and focusing on the wider world. Focusing on self and towards others, form the basis of emotional intelligence while focusing on the wider world can improve the ability to devise strategy, innovate, and manage organizations.
To improve focus on self, leaders must develop self-awareness and must connect with their authentic selves. They must be able to read their physiological signals (Somatic Markers) thus striking the right balance between using their gut feelings and using analytics to make well informed decisions. To improve self-awareness, leaders must practice open awareness and self control.
Leaders who can focus on others, have empathy and an ability to build social relationships, they easily find common ground, their opinions carry the most weight, and other people want to work with them. To have this kind of focus, leaders must exhibit three types of cognitive abilities: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and empathic concern. Leaders, who fail to make a deliberate shift in attention towards others, are naturally inclined to ignore smart ideas from the lower ranks.
Leaders with a focus on the wider world are not only good listeners but also good inquirers. They are visionaries who can sense large scale consequences of their smallest decisions and imagine how the choices they make today will play out in the future. They use “systems thinking” and opt for innovations and because all actions are interconnected, such leaders have the ability to make comprehensive decisions.
Leaders needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves one aimless, failure to focus on others makes one clueless, and failure to focus outward may cause one to be blindsided. The silver lining is that every form of focus can be strengthened with the help of diligence —a willingness to exercise the attention circuits of the brain and the result will be as Goleman contends, “Learn to master your attention, and you will be in command of where you, and your organization, focus”.
Goleman, Daniel. “The Focused Leader.” Harvard Business Review, 20 Dec. 2018, hbr.org/2013/12/the-focused-leader.
– Written for LEADIN