I’m seeing it more and more frequently. In discussions with clients and colleagues, they see it too. This fundamental leadership skill is diminishing in leaders across industries, across generations, and ethnicities. It’s fading less rapidly at the executive level. Several of my clients admit it’s diminishing within their executive teams as well. However, I see it more obviously with mid-level managers.
Managers are losing the ability to stay focused on the task at hand and deliver what is expected.
Whether I’m facilitating a leadership retreat, or simply asking a vendor to provide a specific document, keeping the ‘other party’ focused on the needed output is fast becoming a prevalent part of my world. Invariably, during retreats or leadership workshops, I repeatedly need to redirect conversations that have started to go, not only down a rabbit hole, but have very quickly started to burrow into a neighboring nest of rabbits! The speed at which the point of the conversation or exercise can go awry is incredible. And, the group is quick to follow that tangent. What is happening? Why is this so prevalent?
We’re being trained to follow tangents.
Yes. Whether we like it or not, we’re all being trained to follow tangents. If you doubt me, just reflect on how you spend time on-line reading the news or other stories of interest. How many embedded links do you click on as you read the intended post? Every time you click an embedded link instead of reading the original post all the way through, you just followed a tangent. Did you go back and to finish reading the original story or did you get sucked into another rabbit hole by clicking more links in the subsequent articles? As you got sucked further into the tangent nest of rabbit holes, did you even remember the topic of the original article? If not, you’re not alone.
We’re allowing ourselves to be trained to follow what’s interesting, not necessarily what’s relevant.
Because we’re not intentionally protecting our time, focus, and work output, we’re allowing ourselves to be sucked into these, interesting, but not helpful, tangents. During a client’s leadership retreat, instead of following the model the group had identified as right for them, the Director of Communications clicked a few additional links to supposed best practices and completely restructured his contributions. During the team debrief, he then became frustrated when his contributions had to be addressed as a group and completely revised. He was embarrassed and his team was frustrated. Why? He forgot the agreed upon objective. It’s why I so often have to simply refocus groups and vendors by saying: “Let’s clarify: What is the objective of this task?” It may sound elementary, but often, just asking for a clarification of what the original point of their task or project was, is enough to refocus them and get them back on point. So how can we strengthen this diminishing leadership skill?
Protect your time and that of your colleagues, clients and vendors.
As soon as we each start to become much more protective of our own time, and then that of our colleagues, clients, and vendors, we’ll see an immediate strengthening of our focusing skills. If we only give ourselves 20 minutes to complete a task, we become much more focused on honing in on delivering the desired output at the end of 20 minutes, and are far less likely to allow ourselves to get lost in time-sucking tangents. Also, if you get distracted easily, set timers and calendar alerts to bring yourself back to the task at hand. Don’t be afraid to post a sticky note on your computer screen with the task’s objective written on it.
At a bare minimum, before you ‘complete’ a task, ask yourself, “What was the objective of this task and is what I’m about to deliver meeting that objective?” It sounds pretty basic, but do whatever you need to do to strengthen this leadership skill and your ability to stay focused.
Copyright MMXIX – Liz Weber, CMC, CSP – Weber Business Services, LLC – www.WBSLLC.com +1.717.597.8890
Liz supports clients with strategic and succession planning, as well as leadership training and executive coaching.