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

Defining Priorities in Work and Life

Prospering in life comes as a result of the careful combining of work and home. This focus is important in order to ensure you don't lose yourself, your loved ones, and your foothold in life. Those leaders that effectively involve their families in work decisions and activities are healthier people. Those that don’t, face the danger of creating two distinct worlds that cause emotional and spiritual detachment from the ones they love most. Healthy and happy, older leaders are those men and women who have learned to vigilantly manage their own time and energy. Younger leaders don’t think they need balance because they have an abundance of ambition and energy, but the pace of life that is fueled by this youthful zeal, will eventually cause burn out. You can go hard for ten, twenty, even thirty years, but flesh energy will give out at some point. Then what do you have left?

90% of the time you need to say no, so you can say yes to the right people and the right things. Saying yes too often prevents you from having the time to saying yes when you really should.

Many senior leaders have sustained their momentum by staying connected to their families. Their stories and advice for younger leaders reflect their early life choices to build support networks at home and among friends.

Senior leaders who don’t have balance feel they can achieve this balance by constant “juggling,” which prevents them from engaging meaningfully at home or at work. Learn to make deliberate choices about which opportunities to pursue so you can be truly effective in both areas of your life. Leaders who carefully manage their human resource maintain a higher degree of satisfaction in life and are more effective in what they do in service to others.

The Place For Partnerships

Partnerships can be tricky, but they can also allow movements, organizations and churches to coalesce around solutions to problems that are beyond their ability to handle individually.  There are many levels of partnership: we partner with governments when we receive permission to pass through their borders; we partner with foundations, churches and individuals when we receive their funds and personnel; we partner with other entities when we share information.   When we are to partner at deeper levels over a long term, we need to give thorough consideration to how well our vision and values align. The deeper the degree of partnership, the greater the need for alignment of our core beliefs and practices.   Global and regional networks play an important role in our modern world, but before you jump in to one, you and your senior leaders should think through your level of participation and your motives for doing so. A lot of time and leader resource is wasted when spent in partnerships where there are no clear outcomes in mind.   The internet affords us the opportunity to form some partnerships without diversion from our vision and mission. We can contribute contacts, share ideas, and even coordinate activities without compromising our calling. This type of partnership can lead to faster problem solving and greater coordination of effort.   Some people believe unity in itself is a good enough goal for partnership, but I disagree. Unity can easily become an end in itself. I have witnessed people going from one unity gathering to another without a clear sense of their part in the mission of God.   In All Nations we measure ourselves by our three core values: worship, mission, and community. Take any one of these three out of the equation and you have a skewed endeavor. Worship and community without mission results in an inwardly focused, self-preoccupied group of people. Mission without worship and community leads to burnout. Worship without mission and community leads to spiritual fantasy and no accountability (which only comes through authentic community).   The same approach of a balanced set of core values applies to partnerships. Knowing your core values allows you to partner at whatever level you are comfortable with, while making no compromise to your unique DNA.   This is the challenge: As partnerships and coalitions proliferate in the world, it is crucial for you to think strategically about which partnerships your church/business/movement will participate in, including, working through the how's and why's. Make sure everyone in leadership knows the principles you follow in choosing to say yes or no.