A great quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Concentration is the secret of strength in all management of human affairs.” I too believe concentration — or rather, focus — is a secret to succeeding, and it is also a secret to effective leadership.
Leaders have so many priorities today it’s hard to know where to start to gain focus. Leaders juggle achieving financial objectives; developing and leading talent to execute on strategy; driving innovation and productivity improvements; keeping up with the changes in technology, legislation and industry/market/customer developments; participating and leading in corporate social responsibility initiatives; keeping a social media presence; creating a positive culture; and numerous other priorities that arise that cannot be brushed aside.
It’s easy for leaders to feel overwhelmed at times, not just due to the sheer number of goals but also that some are bound to conflict with each other causing further confusion. On top of that, there are always unexpected events that can add fuel to the fire. Welcome to the 2020s.
So, what can leaders do to stay focused? A good place to start is always in examining how you are spending your time. I suggest leaders start with auditing where they have been spending their time and what type of email traffic they are receiving and initiating. What happened last week or last month, and what is happening today, this week, this month? What are they focusing on and why?
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Consider what matters most to the outcomes you are working to achieve. Start with examining what you will be measured on in your performance review, or if you are your own boss, what success looks like for the organization at the end of the year. Next, you want to make sure what you are being measured on aligns with the top priorities of the organization – make sure nothing important has been missed.
To make your analysis even more effective, it is helpful to reflect on whether the things that are taking up your time (in thought or action) are within or outside of your control. It’s very common to spend time on things that we can’t really control. Once you identify the items you are spending time on, work to eliminate the time spent outside your area of control and focus your time and attention on the things you can control. This is the area you have the most power over and where you can act immediately. You may be surprised to find out just how many things you have control over. This one action alone can put you back in the driver’s seat. Once leaders take the time to stay within the center of their circle of influence, they can begin the daily job of prioritizing their activities on the ones with the most impact!
Once you complete this exercise, don’t forget to communicate your focus to your team so everyone knows where you will be spending your time and why. Help them to align their objectives accordingly. Stay nimble — things are changing quickly, so allow room to reset your priorities every so often. Staying focused on your top priorities will help you feel more in control and centered — and success will follow!