Every now and then, I have a need to get super-focused. It’s usually when I have an important task to accomplish like preparing a speech, coaching with another leader or solving a complex problem.
Unfortunately, I live in the same distracting world you do, where multiple voices compete for my attention. I’ve gone through days when I didn’t accomplish a single thing on my to-do list. Yet, somehow I was busy the entire time!
Recently, I found myself in this exact situation with an upcoming workshop I was preparing to facilitate, conflict resolution between two leaders, and preparing for two executive level meetings.
This got me thinking. Is it possible to turn focus on and off like a switch?
I am not sure I can say yes one hundred percent of the time. But, over the years, I have found five practices that enable me to be better focused, especially when I need to get important work done.
- Give yourself a deadline. Though I often dislike them, the truth is I usually perform better when I have a clear deadline. It provides clarity, efficiency, and the ability to persist until I am done—even when it is totally self-imposed.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t you find yourself more unfocused when you are tired? You may have to reread the same paragraph four times to get the meaning. Being fully rested just makes you more productive.
- Find Quiet and Turn Off. This is just common sense, but find a quiet, distraction free environment—or one that has consistent background noise that quickly turns to white noise. Turn off the Internet or at least the social parts, like Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail that endlessly ping you.
- Focus on one task. Multi-tasking is a myth. In fact, it’s impossible. What you are really doing is serial tasking—shifting from one task to another. The problem is that this actually destroys productivity. It is sometimes necessary but never efficient. When you are trying to focus, you need to work on one task at a time and set everything else aside.
- Take periodic breaks. The key to staying focused is to adopt a rhythm of work and rest or what Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz call “the pulse of high performance” in their book, The Power of Full Engagement. One key idea that works for me is working for 50 minutes and then break for 10 minutes.
There’s not much we can do to affect our external environment. But we can shape our internal one by following these seven practices.
Over the years, we’ve seen lots of changes in both high school and college sports. Better equipment, stronger pads and helmets, even better rules to foster sportsmanship among the players.
But in my opinion, the last move made in Wisconsin is a well-intended mistake.
Author and speaker Tim Elmore commented on this decision. He states: “The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association stated that certain chants are officially banned at games. Now, on the surface, this rule may sound logical—such as excluding off-color remarks or profanity. But this ruling goes far beyond inappropriate language. The ban prevents chants like:
- “Air Ball.”
- “You Can’t Do That.”
- “We Can’t Hear You.”
Why has the WIAA officially banned such words from the fans?
Well, it might hurt a player’s feelings.
They’re called “infractions” by the WIAA. The fans are not even allowed to sing the popular song, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” song.”
Why I Don’t Agree
Yes, we need to build empathy into the values emerging leaders.
However, whenever we solve teens’ problems by getting other people to do it for them, it simply weakens their resolve. They become conditioned to look for rules from the outside to make life better. It actually fosters entitlement. Teens eventually find themselves saying, “We need a new policy,” or “It’s the school’s fault that I don’t have good self-esteem,” or “I deserve a reward, since I’m a victim.”
It’s a victim mindset that later produces an adult who looks to someone else to solve the problems he or she has internally.
We prepare the path for the child, instead of the child for the path.
Today, I am concerned we’ve cultivated such a fragile generation that they will need special rules on the job, or special favors or personal days, or special perks because they are… well, special. This is not a good thing.
Roll Back the Tape
Tim Elmore goes on (and I agree) “If I was a coach in Wisconsin and heard those banned chants from the crowd during an away game in a gym, I would meet with my players afterward and teach them the right way to respond to such chants:
- Reflect – What can we learn from this?
- Resolve – Let’s decide we won’t let it happen again.
- Resilience – Let’s bounce back and succeed.
The WIAA gave no indication it intends to change the rules, but state representative Dale Kooyenga — a former basketball player in the system — wrote the association a letter, urging it to do so. The letter is logical and heartfelt, and the best line of his letter, in my opinion, was, “If you think a high school student section is rough, try playing basketball on a playground on the south side of Chicago.”
Let’s go build some future leaders who are ready for the real world.
Empowerment – it’s such a buzzword. And yet few experience it because they are depending on someone else to empower them.
Your empowerment starts with you and is birthed by high-impact questions that shift your thinking.
I appreciate what Tony Robbins said recently: “The difference in the quality of people’s lives often comes down to the difference in the questions they consistently ask themselves.”
If you ask a disempowering question — such as, ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ — your mental computer will look for an answer, and to satisfy the question, your subconscious may even make something up, such as “Because you aren’t good enough” or “Because you are not smart enough.”
But if you start asking yourself empowering questions, such as “How can I use this experience to grow and learn more?” your brain will look for answers to this question and often come up with an answer that not only energizes you, but energize those around you also – family, friends and co-workers.
This is why making the shift towards powerful questions is so important. Because powerful questions create a powerful life. They direct our mental focus and ultimately determine how we think and feel. The key is to develop a pattern of questions that empower your life and leadership.
For example, try focusing on powerful questions such as:
- What am I most excited about in my life now?
- What am I most proud about in my life now?
- What am I most grateful about in my life now?
- What am I enjoying most in my life right now?
- What am I committed to in my life right now?
- Who do I love?
By making quality questions part of your daily ritual, you will be able to access your most empowering emotional states. And, you will be engaged with those around you.
And over time, as you consistently practice doing so, you will be able to create mental highways to excitement, pride, gratitude, joy, commitment and love — which is who you are at your core.
Some of us love to plan.
Some of us love to dream.
However, those that dream and plan will be those influencers that change culture and add real value to people.
I have many dreams. I have some plans. Only the dreams that are followed by planning will be accomplished.
First dream then plan. A dream by itself is just a fantasy. Execute on the dream to make a real difference.
We need to do both. And in the right order.
The world needs your dreams. For some of those dreams, you should stop dreaming and start planning. Get to work. Start hustling to see those dreams come to life.
Simon Sinek says
Leaders dream. Leaders stand for a cause greater than themselves. Leaders are remembered. Leaders have a legacy that lives on through all those they touch and inspire.
No, you didn’t.
You wanted to ask and there’s a big difference between those two things.
Your personal influence is really your leadership in all types of relationships -regardless of title. Relationships sometime involve “transactions” – when we sometimes give and also sometimes receive.
And, your Relationships are not just something -they are everything. Why? Because in your professional life, relationships often get you the first opportunity. Someone will take a chance on you because they know you and trust you. Someone will give you an opportunity your skills might not have earned yet because of a friendship. And phrases like “I had to ask” tend to wear away at relationships.
Author Jon Acuff states “If you say, ‘I had to ask,’ it removes the responsibility from you. Some outside force made you ask. Your hands were tied, there was nothing you could do except ask.”
So you did and the person you asked for a favor said no. You responded to his/her no with “I had to ask!” Or, instead you said, “Well, there’s no harm in asking,” only that’s not true either.
There can be harm in asking. Maybe the person you asked feels used. You barely know them and have jumped gigantic intimacy levels by overreaching with your favor request. Maybe they felt manipulated by the ask. Maybe they’ve now quietly moved you from, “People who are my friends” to “People who just want favors” bucket.
Don’t kid yourself. There’s harm in asking, especially if you do it the wrong way with the wrong person.
Does that mean you shouldn’t ask anyone for anything? Of course not. Your friends want to help you. They’re excited to help you. The time you’ve invested in that relationship completely changes the request.
Asking is hard but it’s not complicated. Jon Acuff states that there’s a simple way to remember the right way to do it:
Ask friends for favors. Ask strangers for friendship.
- People with bad attitudes have an 800% higher incident rate of being diagnosed with clinical depression.
- People who possess a negative outlook on life are four times more likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack, or be diagnosed with cancer.
- People who have bad attitudes have more career turnover.
- People with bad attitudes have a 50% higher divorce rate.
- People with bad attitudes are ten times more likely to have poor relationships with their children.
How can you really diagnose an attitude? It’s all about behaviors. Just look at others’ behaviors. That will tell you all you need.
Here are five questions to ask that will diagnose your own attitude and that of others:
- Are like-ability and respect ratings low? While being a great person is not a popularity contest, the fact is that people who desire to excel are both well liked and respected. What do you reflect, and what do people see in you? If you are not well liked and respected then you will have consistent, self-imposed obstacles placed in your path that inhibit your ability to be an effective leader.
- Is there a pessimistic outlook on things? If you aren’t excited about the start of each day, display a “same junk…different day” attitude, or have a “glass is half empty” perspective on things, then you likely have a bad attitude.
- Do people seek input, advice, and counsel? If people see you coming and quickly run the other way, you have an attitude problem. Great leaders are magnets that attract the attention of others. If people shy away from you versus clamor for your attention, you likely have an attitude problem.
- Is there frustration that others don’t see it their way? Everyone can have a bad day, and while it’s okay to have a pity-party every once in a while, it is not the kind of party you want to throw very often, and never publicly. If the majority of your conversations and interactions are negative or confrontational you likely have an attitude problem.
- Is there difficulty attracting and retaining top people? The simple truth is that people strongly desire to work with and for great leaders. The best leaders I have observed are talent magnets…people want to be led by those who have much to offer. If you struggle with recruiting, team building, and leadership development you likely have a bad attitude.
Fact: It’s easier to notice a Bad Attitude in others far sooner than our own.
If your attitude is impeding your relationships, your talent, or your health, it might be time to consider making some changes…
It’s actually quite terrible and the reason is that it encourages people to quit their pursuits much sooner than they should have. What happens is that you buy into the lie that chasing a dream will be one long parade of rainbows and bunnies.
The only way you’ll know when you made the right decision is that you’ll encounter a never ending assembly line of joyful tasks in your day.
When this doesn’t happen, when some part of your pursuit faces a setback (and it will) you start to feel like you failed. When faced with the inevitable work, struggle and hardship that accompanies anything you do in life, you will question yourself.
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is not true, but something even better is. That statement should be edited. It should read:
“Do what you love and you’ll love the work you do.”
You’ll work harder than you ever have before in your life.
You’ll scale mountains that are in the way of your dreams and goals.
You’ll make hard phone calls that make you want to throw up a little bit.
You’ll put your pride aside and ask for help in ways that make you feel uncomfortable.
You’ll work and it will be difficult, but it will be meaningful.
You will see that each step has value. Even the busywork, even the stuff that is just flat out miserable matters in the light of the bigger story.
Don’t believe the motivational hype the Internet tries to serve you.
Big dreams and hard work are not enemies. They’re actually best friends and you don’t get one without the other.
That’s what I wanted to say last week when another leader asked me to provide some “team-building”. Why?
Because fostering collaboration and developing community cannot fix a problem if the leader is unwilling to address it first.
Instead, it’s easier to hire an outside professional to hopefully wave a “magic” wand through a training/workshop. Or individual executive coaching. Or creating a personal development plan (you get the idea).
But, training cannot compensate for a poor hire.
A leadership development workshop cannot replace a leaders’ unwillingness to develop their team.
So either me or one of my staff is requested to fix a problem. But I am not the Jedi Master. You Are.
You know your team best. You know who needs to be developed, who needs to be promoted. And who needs accountability. An outside consultant’s role is to equip you to equip your team. That’s true TEAM BUILDING.
Yes, we can provide a structure and partner with a leader to build a team, through focusing on Community, Best Selection Practices and Skill Development. But what your team really needs is You to fix the problem person.
Train them or hold them accountable. If that doesn’t work, share them with the competition.
Don’t shrink back from being a leader.
Make the tough call.
Provide the tough love.
Develop tough servant-leaders.
Then, you’ll see your team turn from Pathetic to Performing.
They need YOU more than they need me.
You have to now spend a great amount of time finding their replacement – which could take months depending on the role.
When your best people leave, you also suffer the psychological setback of low morale.
Finally, you suffer financially. The latest studies suggest 6 months of wages equals the cost of that particular role turning over due to the gap in training someone else to get up to performance level of the previous person.
Ragan Publications listed 10 ways to guarantee that your best people will quit:
- Treat everyone equally. This may sound good, but your employees are not equal. Some are worth more, because they produce more results. The key is not to treat them equally; it is to treat them all fairly.
- Tolerate mediocrity. A-players don’t have to or want to play with a bunch of C-players.
- Have dumb rules. I did not say have no rules; I specified dumb rules. Great employees want to have guidelines and direction, but they don’t want to have rules that get in the way of doing their jobs or that conflict with the values the company says are important.
- Don’t recognize outstanding performance and contributions. Remember Psychology 101: Behavior you want repeated should be rewarded immediately.
- Don’t have any fun at work. Where’s the written rule that says work has to be serious? If you find it, rip it to shreds and stomp on it, because the notion that work cannot be fun is actually counterproductive. The workplace should be fun. Find ways to make work and/or the work environment more relaxed and fun, and you will have happy employees who look forward to coming to work each day.
- Don’t keep your people informed. You’ve got to communicate not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly. If you don’t tell them, the rumor mill will.
- Micromanage. Tell them what you want done and how you want it done. Don’t tell them why it needs to be done and why their job is important. Don’t ask for their input on how it could be done better.
- Don’t Think About How to Retain Them. This deserves your attention every day. Make a list of the people and write down what you are doing or will do to ensure that person stays engaged and on board.
- Don’t do employee retention interviews. Wait until a great employee is walking out the door instead and conduct an exit interview to see what you could have done differently so they would not have gone out looking for another job.
- Make your onboarding program an exercise in tedium. Employees are most impressionable during the first 60 days on the job. Every bit of information gathered during this time will either reinforce your new hire’s “buying decision” (to take the job) or lead to “Hire’s Remorse.” The biggest cause of “Hire’s Remorse” is the dreaded employee orientation/training program. Most are poorly organized, inefficient, and boring. How can you expect excellence from your new hires if your orientation program is a sloppy amalgamation of tedious paperwork, boring policies and procedures, and hours of regulations and red tape?
To reinforce their “buying” decision, get your best leaders involved on the first day and make sure your orientation delivers and reinforces these three messages repeatedly:
- You were carefully chosen and we’re glad you’re here;
- You’re now part of a great organization;
- This is why your job is so important.
He had talent – it just needed refining by experience.
We all know high-potentials who are “diamonds in the rough” who are currently proving a positive example.
But they have the capacity to handle greater responsibility in the future.
They are all around us.
The following four key identifiers reveal who they are:
They Demonstrate Integrity. This is the absolute bottom-line requirement of any influence. It means a consistent display in thoughts and actions of a strong ethical code of conduct that is “focused on the welfare of everyone.” Their consistent adherence to their beliefs makes them predictable and therefore dependable. They have the courage to do the right thing even when it is difficult.
They Lead Through Relationships. Leading through relationships is the basis of leadership. They get along with others and value others. They “lead and inspire because of who they are and how they interact with others.” They don’t depend on their position or lack of it to influence the actions of others.
They Focus on Results. This is someone who maintains a wide perspective and acts with independent initiative. They use the end to define the means, which can mean working outside of strict processes to achieve the end result. They aim for the end they are supposed to produce so they feel responsible and accountable, not just for the demands of their jobs but also for successful outcomes for stakeholders involved.
They Remain Service Focused. This is different than customer service; it is an “awareness of how an action in a specific job affects someone else.” It is a big-picture focus and a value all at the same time.
For some ‘high-potentials’, one characteristic may dominate and others may need to be developed more fully.
If you know someone like that, then get to work helping them grow and develop.
Because they are about to make a HUGE difference in others’ lives.