Daniel Goleman: Great Leadership Requires Focus

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Author : Daniel Goleman
Published: October 09, 2013

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist and science journalist. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, was on the New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half, selling more than 5 million copies. The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, and Accenture Institute for Strategic Change have listed Goleman among the most influential business thinkers. Goleman is the expert of leadership, innovation, psychology for every consultant.

In this Q & A, Daniel Goleman discusses his new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, and answers consultant’s questions about attention, leadership, and team management.

1. In your book, you discuss a link between strong self-awareness and smarter decision-making. How does this work?

The human brain makes decision rules from our life experience – what works and what does not – and stores them in a deep brain structure that has no access to the part of the brain that thinks in words. When we make an important decision this area presents us with our life wisdom on the subject – not in words, but in signals within the body, particularly in the gut. Self-awareness of these signals gives us access to this wisdom. It adds a rich kind of information to whatever other data we bring to bear.

In this Q & A, Daniel Goleman discusses his new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, and answers consultant’s questions about attention, leadership, and team management.

2. You explain that focus and attention can be trained like a muscle. What are some practices that we can do to train? How do we rest?

The brain circuits for focused attention can be strengthened by regular practice, just like a muscle when we do repetitions in lifting weights. The basic move for strengthening focus is this: keep your mind on one target, like your breath, and when your mind wanders bring it back to your focus. Sounds very easy, but try it for a few minutes. I’ve developed some tools for this that consultants can use with clients—a CD called “Cultivating Focus” and one called “Relax”.

Daily sessions of mental exercise like this – or a walk in nature or yoga – give us a regular period of rests us.

3. As consultants, we are often placed in positions as leaders and team motivators. What do you believe is the most important, yet overlooked, leadership trait today?

Perhaps it’s empathy, noticing what the other person thinks and feels. This requires we pause and pay full attention to the person in front of us – a simple act that has become more rare as we are besieged by increases in digital distractions.

4. You mention that a leader’s primary task is to guide attention. What are some ways a leader can effectively direct the focus of a team?

First a leader must take control of her own focus, then share that focus in ways that make clear why it matters. The best practice is to articulate a focus that has meaning to all involved. This may take some listening and empathy, along with the standard persuasion and influence skills like effective communication. Cognitive empathy – one of three kinds – lets us understand the mental models another person holds and how they think about a topic. That lets us find the most effective language to use in talking to them. This seems crucial in building team focus.

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