Where Is Your Focus?

I have learned much from a friend of mine, Dan, about attention and focus. He has said that attention works like a muscle. If you exercise it, it grows. There seems no doubt that our ability to focus greatly enhances our results, but it is difficult to quantify and measure.

I like to be aware of my current focus. One model that helps with this is to consider three areas of focus, inner, outer, and other.

1. Inner focus – This is the focus on our self. We are seeing the world in terms of impact to our life. We are using intuition and our embedded values, and making decisions for our self.

2. Outer focusOur world is made up of layers upon layers of complex systems. This is the construct from which everything operates, and includes systems such as corporate, biological, financial, legal, and educational. When our focus is here, we are trying to work within the constraints of the construct. This includes strategizing.

3. Other focus – This is the focus on other people and our relationships. We are utilizing our connections to other people. We use this focus to enhance our relationships, and see the world from some one else’s view.

At any given instant, our focus can only be in one of these three areas. One measure of success is how intentional we can be in focus. Being able to exclude other thoughts and remain on task. But another measure of success is how flexible we are in switching between these three areas, and understanding the impact of one upon the other.

It is an interesting concept, and it makes me ask, “Where is my focus at the moment? Where should it be?”

What Do You Want to Achieve?

What Christina Aguilera said is true, “The roughest roads often lead to the top.” Achievement takes work, perseverance, and desire in some magical combination. This week I captured some thoughts about achievement.

1. Achievements fade over time. The importance of an achievement is highest at the time of achievement. It is the culmination of the time and effort spent. Afterwards, the effect is diminished. As a plant manager I monitored cost, delivery, quality, safety, and employee engagement among many other metrics. All of these accomplishments were important, but the importance was reduced the next month, because I had a new target. At times I found myself too focused on this month’s target that I missed bigger opportunity.

2. Define your own goals. Most of my working life I was given goals by my boss or the company directors. The goals that meant more to me and my team were goals that we created. When I challenge myself, I am more likely to find a way to reach the goal. I will also learn more and enjoy the process more.

3. Understand why. Blindly following goals that you don’t understand can be very frustrating. When I could embrace the reason for the target, it was much easier to get the team working together.

4. Have fun with what is important. The achievements I remember most are the ones that were fun to complete. Work can be enjoyable with the right team. If you can make your goals fun, it is easier to spend your time working towards them.

For me, I found accomplishments to be important milestones but they are not as important as the journey to achieve them.

Four Certainties about Competence

As a reflection exercise, I sometimes like think about something I value from my perspective.  Recently I spent some time thinking about competence. Competence means possessing the skill, knowledge, and ability to effectively perform. It provides significance and context for our actions. Here are four things I know about competence.

1. I am never as good as I think I am. It is human nature to see things unfold better in our minds than in reality. I never practice missing a 30 foot golf putt in my mind. But when playing, I miss more than I make.  When I take time to think through an idea before taking action, I plan for a positive outcome. The basis of self-confidence is belief that we can be successful, the reality is we must fail along the way.

2. I can always improve. Improvement is a never ending process because I am not perfect. I am not even close to perfect. Any competence I possess can be improved. I can gain new knowledge, or increase my skill, or invest time in practice. Master pianists have natural talent, but their competence comes from hard work. It is the same with me.

3. I care more about my skills than anyone else. Others can only judge my competence from their perspective. However, my perspective is more important. My evaluation of myself determines my actions. Do I work to improve, or am I content with my current level of competence? External influences affect my plans, but ultimately from within me comes my motivation to improve. No one can force me to become better without my participation.

4. I must use and improve my competence in order to keep it. If a surgeon returns from a five year hiatus, would you want to be their first patient for surgery? If I do not use my skills, they will begin to lose proficiency. Some investment of time is required to maintain my level of competence.

Throughout our lives we gain and lose competence based on the decisions we make and the time that we invest. Taking time to reflect on competence has helped me challenge myself. How do you improve or maintain your competence level?

Have We Forgotten the Purpose of Compromise?

When I was in school, I studied the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. I can imagine the representatives debating, arguing, and discussing the fundamentals of democracy. The process was not easy or elegant.

Today, our society continues to debate many social and political issues. Although not true, it feels like we have never been more divided as a culture.

As a manufacturing plant manager, one of my main tasks was to develop a management team built on shared values. I encouraged my team to challenge each other and the status quo. In the process, we were able to create a stronger vision of the values that drove us to success.

There are two main points to consider when you are trying to build a team, an organization, or even a country.

First, expression of opposing views should be welcomed. It is the difference of perspectives that let us discover the shared values below the surface. If everyone only settled without voicing their opinion, the team would lack strength.

Second, compromise is required. The hard work of true compromise consists of dissecting discussion to understand the basic truths of our beliefs. Then working together to find a solution that best meets our needs and supports our values. A good compromise does not require anyone to oppose their basic values. As this process is repeated, the team begins to coalesce around the  underlying shared principles. Just like the creation of the United States, the process is not easy or elegant.

In today’s United States Congress, we don’t see debate that leads to understanding and compromise. Instead we see politicians that are polarized, and divided by their party line. No one is trying to understand the shared values that would lead to better solutions.

If your team appears divided like politicians, or lacks the courage to debate issues, then you have a problem. If this is the case, then you have a great opportunity to improve your team with your leadership.