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Leaders: Can You Get Too Focused?

The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.

She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”

I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.

She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.

I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”

I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”

As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.

Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.

I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.

It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.

Leader Focus

As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.

When was the last time you got focused like that?

I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.

Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).

Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.

It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.

However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.

It’s a Tricky Balancing Act

I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.

Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.

First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.

Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.

Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).

The Leader’s Challenge

The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.

We’ve All Been Ambushed at Work

bad email news picture

Let’s face it, it’s no fun when you get ambushed at work. Being trapped by surprise can come in several forms. A co-worker can steal the credit for something you did. Or a peer can undermine something you’ve been slaving away to make perfect.

The one I hate the most is when the boss does it. You know what I mean. You’re working along thinking things are going well. Maybe the boss even said something publicly about how happy they were with your effort.

Then BAM! You get pounced on. When you least expect it, you get an email saying you screwed something up or missed some deadline; basically failing on expectations.

Even more problematic is getting that email while you’re away on a planned (and approved) vacation. The email hints your absence is part of the problem. GEEZ people !!!!!

The employee is not the problem

Dealing with your co-workers is tough enough, but when the boss ambushes you, what are you supposed to do?

I’m convinced most employees start out with the intent to do a good job. Sure there are a few bad eggs who slip around, job hopping, doing very little, but thankfully they are in the minority.

Most workers try to do the right thing. So a boss who feels the need to ambush must be the one who is in the wrong. Generally, the employee is not a problem.

I read an article Gary Vaynerchuk posted saying poor performance is all on the manager. I like that idea. Here’s exactly what he said:

“Here are three steps to managing underperforming employees: 1. Take the blame yourself. 2. Start to communicate better. 3. Tell them they’re not executing at the level you’re hoping for. Then ask, “what can I do to help?” Then actually start helping.”

Bosses who are frustrated with perceived performance problems and feel the need to barf on someone’s parade, especially at weird times, must be harboring some ill feelings.

Great leaders provide adequate AND timely feedback to their team. Feedback should never be a toxic dose of bad news.

If things need the leader’s corrective action, he/she should give proper feedback and restate expectations. Yet hiding behind an email to deliver the message is a weak way to do so.

Woman getting bad email from her boss

What to do

If you are the leaders here are a few thoughts and recommendations to avoid ambushing your people.

First, find ways to share feedback in the right way. Give the employee the respect to tell them “bad news” face-to-face. I know with larger, perhaps global teams, the personal face time is hard. However, in those situations, video capabilities can afford each party the next best thing to face-to-face. Oh and never use email unless it is a last resort.

Think about the timing. I know you have a burning desire to fix things, but decide whether the fix is critical at just that moment. I like three questions I’ve coached for a long time:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

Be objective about whatever the issue may be. Stephen R. Covey called it “seek first to understand.” Don’t pose the issue as a condemnation of behavior or results. Perhaps your source of information has slanted the matter. Present the details as observations, not final facts. (Hint: You will get embarrassed.)

Lastly, be graceful in your approach. Again, I believe most employees are there to do the right thing. Unless that employee is a proven screw-up, don’t assume the worst. Believe the best and work through the issues gracefully.

Using these steps you can avoid the hated ambush of your people at work.