Attention Distraction Disorder

There are many tasks a leader must do, but one stands out above the others. Leaders must focus the attention of their followers. To do that, he or she must focus their own attention. There is a constant battle for the energy and attention of leaders. If a leader does not master the challenge of “attention distraction disorder” they will not lead well. The problem is one of concentration. Christian leaders must be able to maintain focus on three things simultaneously: focusing on yourself and your relationship with God, focusing on the wider world – specifically that part of the world you are called to reach, and lastly, focusing on the “immediate” others in your life –those you serve with.

Focusing upward – maintains your emotional and spiritual well being

Focusing inward – maintains your connection relationally to your natural and spiritual family

Focusing outward – maintains your passion for those you are called to reach

Every leader needs to cultivate this “triad of awareness.” Failure to focus upward leaves you rudderless, failure to focus outward renders you lost in a haze of busyness, and failure to focus on others around you leaves you clueless relationally.

An unfocused leader will be blindsided. An unfocused leader who does not cultivate abundance and balance in the “focus triad” will run in circles, impressed with their own busyness and unaware that others are not truly following them. Or sadly, if their followers are following, they are being misled.

Seven skills and character qualities to overcome “attention distraction disorder”:

1. Determine three to five priorities in your life in order of ranking, and proportion your time for each one accordingly.

2. Set aside time each day for personal reflection and renewal. Cleanse yourself through prayer and confession of negative emotions and reactions to others.

3. Learn to say no. The more responsibility you have the more often you have to say no – so you can say yes to the main things. Do a time map for your week to evaluate how you use your time.

4. Cultivate people around you who are able to say no to you. Find ways to hear the voices of people who are not afraid to express disagreement or differing points of view. As leaders grow in position and power their ability to maintain diverse personal connections suffer – unless they have gathered people around them who will be honest with them.  A wise leader will recognize valuable counsel from people of every social rank within their community or organization. Without such deliberate shift of attention, the natural inclination of senior leaders is to listen only to other senior leaders in their inner circle.

5. Learn self-restraint. When confronted by problems, effective leaders are those who have cultivated inner “traffic lights.” They recognize red light, yellow light and green light signals. They calm themselves under pressure, take time to think about how to respond, and then do so with a clear plan. Leaders who learn the quality of self-restraint shift away from impulse driven behavior to deliberate purpose-driven behavior.

6. Practice creativity and innovation. Do some things differently. Think out of the box. If you want new results you will have to break away from old practices.

7. Turn off notifications on your devices. Put your phone on airplane mode during your personal reflection time. A wealth of information can create a poverty of attention.

Focused attention is the basis of the most essential of leadership skills – emotional, organizational and strategic intelligence. The constant barrage of information and the speed of decision making in today’s world makes it crucial for leaders to maintain attention and to direct the attention of those they lead.

* I am grateful for the the inspiration and many of the insights for this article to Daniel Goleman in an article he authored titled, The Focused Leader, from the Harvard Business Review, page 50, December, 2013