Thursday, May 5, 2016

Daily Battles of a Distracted Leader

The easiest thing in the world to do is to see the flaws in others. It has two cathartic benefits. It makes you feel superior, and it distracts you from your own flaws and weaknesses. This is especially dangerous if you are a leader who is already prone to distraction like I am.

Our natural bent toward being distracted, combined with the ego-stroking benefits of having our attention put on the weaknesses of others, can be a deadly combination. Distracted leaders tend to be flaky, unreliable, difficult to trust and very frustrating to follow. They diminish those around them without even knowing it. So what can leaders like me do?

Recognizing and Addressing the Problem

This is a daily battle for me. But it is one that I cannot escape, and therefore must face head on. To do this, I need to recognize the following truths about myself:
  • I can be lazy. Unless all the stars align perfectly to light a fire within me, I am most likely to gravitate toward chilling out. Taking the dog for a walk sounds like a lot more fun than making a boat load of phone calls, reviewing a spreadsheet or sitting in a meeting.
  • I am sometimes present in bodily form only. My mind tends to latch onto whatever is most interesting to me at the moment. If it is what someone is sharing with me, that works out nicely. But if it’s not, I may miss 80% of what they say. That makes conversation very difficult and a healthy relationship impossible.
  • I tend to be forgetful. I am horrible with names especially. I was introduced to my wife no less than six times before I remembered her name. She was not my wife at the time. I’m not quite that bad, but almost.
  • I like to do what is most interesting instead of what is most necessary. So even when I do commit myself to a needed task, if something more interesting grabs my attention, I am likely to ditch the needed task, and of course forget about it, and leave it completely undone.
What to Do About It
  • Laziness – I have to keep a running list of Objectives, Plans and Tasks, and make a game of checking off the boxes. I leverage my competitive nature here. I turn work into a competitive game - how much can I get done by 2 PM? Then I reward myself. Silly, but it works. And I also make sure that what I am doing serves the mission of my organization. Laziness is easier to justify when you cannot see the purpose in your work. Keep that vision and those attainable goals in front of you always.
  • Non-Presence – Note taking helps me here. Sometimes this is not possible or can be awkward. But most of the time people are appreciative of the fact that when they say is important enough for you to write it down. I am an auditory learner, so writing does not help me remember as much as it keeps away the distractions. You don’t have to confess it is the only way you can keep your attention focused on them.
  • Forgetfulness – Again, write it all down, even if you are auditory. You cannot remember everything. Modern technology is a life-saver here. I write everything down in a small notebook I carry everywhere. Then, back in my office, on my computer, phone or tablet, I enter that into a preset category in my task list. Mine are arranged by where I am doing the task – office, phone, computer, errands and home. They also include projects and plans, agenda items for upcoming meetings, a waiting-to-hear-back category, and a list of life objectives I review every day. Everything I need to remember and act upon goes in one of these task lists. Everything! If you need help, let me suggest David Allen's, Getting Things Done.
  • Gravitating Toward the Interesting – There are two things that help me here a great deal. First is keeping my list of projects and plans really short, and laser focused on the mission I serve. This eliminates the number of things I might come across to distract me. If it does not serve the mission and our objectives, I toss it out. Second is my commitment to getting through the tasks that by my entering into my lists, I have already told myself are the most important things I need to be doing. So when I sit down to do some work, I never have to wonder where to start. It is amazing how much less distracted that one little discipline allows me to be.
If you can relate at all, let me know. Very selfishly, I could use the encouragement. In the meantime, be encouraged yourself. While the above struggles may be true for you like they are for me, they do not have to be the only things trues about us. We can grow. We can learn. We can change and become more focused without losing any of the creativity, imagination or big-picture perspective that a lot of us carry around naturally. But can you imagine if we take those strengths and bring some clear-headed, laser-like focus to them? Be encourage!

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