The Focused Leader, Daniel Goleman, HBR Dec 2013

“A primary task of leadership is to direct attention.”

3 modes of attention – focusing on yourself, others, wider world.

“Focusing inward and focusing on others helps leaders cultivate emotional intelligence. Focusing outward can improve their ability to devise strategy, innovate, and manage organizations.”

“Consider, for example, the implications of an analysis of interviews conducted by a group of British researchers with 118 professional traders and 10 senior managers at four City of London investment banks. The most successful traders (whose annual income averaged £500,000) were neither the ones who relied entirely on analytics nor the ones who just went with their guts. They focused on a full range of emotions, which they used to judge the value of their intuition. When they sufered losses, they acknowledged their anxiety, became more cautious, and took fewer risks. The least successful traders (whose income averaged only £100,000) tended to ignore their anxiety and keep going with their guts. Because they failed to heed a wider array of internal signals, they were misled.”

“To be authentic is to be the same person to others as you are to yourself. In part that entails paying attention to what others think of you, particularly people whose opinions you esteem and who will be candid in their feedback. A variety of focus that is useful here is open awareness, in which we broadly notice what’s going on around us without getting caught up in or swept away by any particular thing. In this mode we don’t judge, censor, or tune out; we simply perceive.”

Focusing on yourself – self-awareness and self-control.

“Decades’ worth of research demonstrates the singular importance of willpower to leadership success.
Particularly compelling is a longitudinal study tracking the fates of all 1,037 children born during a single year in the 1970s in the New Zealand city of Dunedin. For several years during childhood the children were given a battery of tests of willpower, including the psychologist Walter Mischel’s legendary “marshmallow test”—a choice between eating one marshmallow right away and getting two by waiting 15 minutes. In Mischel’s experiments, roughly a third of children grab the marshmallow on the spot, another third hold out for a while longer, and a third manage to make it through the entire quarter hour.
Years later, when the children in the Dunedin study were in their 30s and all but 4% of them had been tracked down again, the researchers found that those who’d had the cognitive control to resist the marshmallow longest were significantly healthier, more successful fnancially, and more law-abiding than the ones who’d been unable to hold out at all. In fact, statistical analysis showed that a child’s level of self-control was a more powerful predictor of financial success than IQ, social class, or family circumstance.”

“The word “attention” comes from the Latin attendere, meaning ‘to reach toward.'”

“Executives who can effectively focus on others are easy to recognize. They are the ones who find common ground, whose opinions carry the most weight, and with whom other people want to work. They emerge as natural leaders regardless of organizational or social rank.”

Three distinct kinds of empathy that is important for leadership effectiveness:
1. cognitive empathy—the ability to understand another person’s perspective;
2. emotional empathy—the ability to feel what someone else feels;
3. empathic concern—the ability to sense what another person needs from you.

“Strengthening the ability to maintain open awareness requires leaders to do something that verges on the unnatural: cultivate at least sometimes a willingness to not be in control, not offer up their own views, not judge others. That’s less a matter of deliberate action than of attitude adjustment.”

“A simple way to shift into positive mode is to ask yourself, “If everything worked out perfectly in my life, what would I be doing in 10 years?” Why is that effective? Because when you’re in an upbeat mood, the University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found, your brain’s left prefrontal area lights up. That area harbors the circuitry that reminds us how great we’ll feel when we reach some long-sought goal.
“Talking about positive goals and dreams activates brain centers that open you up to new possibilities,” says Richard Boyatzis, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve. “But if you change the conversation to what you should do to fix yourself, it closes you down….You need the negative to survive, but the positive to thrive.”

“… a social and emotional learning (SEL) method (is) used to strengthen cognitive control in schoolchildren across the United States. When confronted by an upsetting problem, the children are told to think of a traffic signal. The red light means stop, calm down, and think before you act. The yellow light means slow down and think of several possible solutions. The green light means try out a plan and see how it works. Thinking in these terms allows the children to shift away from amygdala-driven impulses to prefrontal-driven deliberate behavior.
It’s never too late for adults to strengthen these circuits as well. Daily sessions of mindfulness practice work in a way similar to Musical Chairs and SEL. In these sessions you focus your attention on your breathing and practice tracking your thoughts and feelings without getting swept away by them. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, you simply return it to your breath. It sounds easy—but try it for 10 minutes, and you’ll find there’s a learning curve.”

“An executive at one bank explained to me that it has created a separate career ladder for systems analysts so that they can progress in status and salary on the basis of their systems smarts alone. That way, the bank can consult them as needed while recruiting leaders from a different pool—one containing people with emotional intelligence.”

“Information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – Nobel Prize–winning economist Herbert Simon.

“The link between attention and excellence remains hidden most of the time.”

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