Distraction…A Challenge to Good Leadership

Adlai Stevenson once said, “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse”.

I’m not sure what he meant by that specifically, but I’m thinking it has something to do with allowing distraction to get in the way of getting things done.

Of course, staying focused (most of the time anyway) is easier said than done.  After all, distraction, or the potential for it, is everywhere, rendering the leader’s lot a tricky proposition.

But, there are a few things you can do if you want to avoid spending time on things that really don’t matter that much.  And, there are usually some habits lurking about too that you might well do without.

For example:

Too much “me”.  Not enough “ you”

Here’s a new flash.  You’re human.  You are as vulnerable as anyone else to bouts of self-doubt and self-consciousness.   When this happens, your focus is going to be on yourself more often than on those you are there to lead.  You need to find ways to deal with that if you want to get out of your own way and keep the distraction factor down to a dull roar.  Usually it involves spending some concentrated time on some “know thyself” activities, things that will allow you to see yourself from a variety of perspectives.

How you choose to do it is usually a personal matter.  Self-assessment can take many forms and involve other people…or not.  However, here are a couple of things you might consider:

Take some Tests:  There are many good psychometric tests available that will allow you to get connected and acknowledge yourself for who you are, warts ‘n all.  Here’s a website that might help.

Hire a Coach: Leaders choose to do this for a variety of reasons. Working with a coach to gain clarity about yourself and particularly how others see you, are among them.

Just Ask people:  This can be a formal process or an informal one but the point is, we only see ourselves from the inside out.  If you want to know how you affect the environment and the people around you, and you trust the opinions of those you ask, sometimes it will be enough.

Too Much Time on the Ground

It is hard to stay focused when you are up to your neck in minutia.  And yet, some leaders allow themselves to get embroiled with the smallest of details. When this happens, it is easy to lose sight of the larger goals and become bogged down with side issues that have little or nothing to do with very much of anything.

So, what to do? Well, here’s a thought or two:

As a leader, you choose good people, train them, and give them the resources they need to do their jobs.  If you have done this well, then you must trust yourself, and them, enough to let go and let them get on with it.  Over- involvement in the nitty-gritty of the work takes you away from what you are really supposed to be doing.  Your job is to find the right forest.  Allow other people to take care of the trees.

The Seduction of the latest management Fad

It is easy to become distracted by new management approaches that “everyone is doing”.   You know, the kinds of processes that, when implemented, are purported to simplify your life, increase your bottom line and make everyone a hero.  For instance, was there ever a time when you found yourself sitting in a “quality circle” ? I don’t mean to pick on quality circles per se, but these things have a way of taking on lives of their own and before you know it, your goals are going one way and the people who are meant to achieve them are bound up in processes that get lost in bureaucracy, and complicated administration.

Management processes will help you get things done.  However, it is important to put them in perspective, to use them as tools to reach your goals rather than have them use you for their own sake.  Just because something is new and everyone is doing it, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.

Explore, challenge and experiment, by all means but always with the achievement of your goals in mind. And, by the way, if you are a leader who has not been given a choice about what processes to follow, perhaps the best thing to do is to find the bits you can use to get to where you are going and leave the rest.

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The bottom line is, it is difficult to lead well while distracted.  And, it is still possible to look funny on a horse even when you’re focused.  The difference lies in the amount of time you’re willing to spend worrying about it.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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13 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Self Knowledge

13 responses to “Distraction…A Challenge to Good Leadership

  1. All great points. There are so many ways to become distracted… our own stuff politics, competing priorities. Working on staying authentic and true to our biggest priorities is vital.

  2. Hi Gwyn,

    Great post! I agree that most vital things on the priority list are in fact hard to focus on with all these distractions.

    I found your blog via Tanveer Naseer’s blogroll. I recently guest posted for him (http://www.tanveernaseer.com/3-steps-to-using-feedback-to-encourage-change-jessica-edmondson/ ) and was wondering if you would accept a guest post, too? I work with New England College and would love to share some leadership and management tips.

    Thanks again for the relevant post.

    Jessica Edmondson
    Bisk Education / New England College
    jessica-edmondson [at] Bisk [dot] com

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jessica ~ Thanks for coming by and for offering to write a guest post! I’ll send you an e-mail and we’ll “talk”! 🙂

  3. Great post, Gwyn – there’s so much competing for our attention these days that it’s hard to stay focused.

    What tools do you recommend to leaders to help them stay on target?

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Alex ~ Yes, indeed it is! While I don’t have any specific ‘tools’ in mind (apart from the ones suggested in the know thyself portion of the post) that will help leaders stay focused, one thing that does come to mind is the importance of being able to easily call upon the organizational purpose and vision. Often when we get distracted, remembering, and being able to grasp the reason why we do what we do in the first place has a way of snapping us out of our distractions. That means that the initial work of clearly articulating what the organization is all about is critical because it serves as an anchor when we experience any kind of ‘drift’. And then, questions like; How is what I am currently engaged in helping me achieve my ultimate goals? What purpose is it serving?, can often remind us where we are concentrating our efforts versus where we need to be focusing.
      That’s one thought anyway. Anyone else?

  4. Steve Borek

    I’ve found many of my leadership clients have a really really hard time letting go. They want to delegate yet can’t avoid micromanaging. I takes practice to give your people the freedom to do the job their way.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Steve ~ Yes, I agree that it takes practice. I also think it requires trust; a) in their own ability to choose, guide and develop others and b)in the general principle that people,when given the opportunity, encouragement and proper tools will strive to excel.
      Thank you for giving rise to further thought here and also for choosing to subscribe to this blog. It is much appreciated 🙂

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