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How do you define focus in a leadership context? What does it look like?

It’s not just about being able to lead yourself and your colleagues to work as a team or guiding an organisation towards a designated goal.

It’s about finding your own way as a leader. Knowing what to do and what not to do. Daring to say no. And having the ability to think in the long term when everything around you is leaning towards the short term.

That often means knowing how to take a series of intelligent, short-term decisions that, together, will serve a long-term goal. I like to use the analogy of a precision sharpshooting match – mainly because I’m a world champion in that sport. If you know that you have 60 shots in front of you to achieve the best score you can, you will see that the way to meet that overall goal is to take as much care as possible on each, individual shot.

Focus is about maintaining your cognitive and emotional control. It’s a process of connecting with your core values and identity, so you are able to lead yourself consciously, purposefully, and effectively before you turn to leading others.

It also means understanding how to free your headspace from distractions. As information floods towards us so easily, we barely even have to try to access it, but we will still pick up so much about challenges, sadness, and crises in the world – which are not solved simply by thousands of people reading about them.

That flood of emotional data is in one way useful for leaders because it ignites a willingness to do good, drive change and do better work – not only for their own organisation, but as an active leader in the global collaboration for a better world.

But it can also be so overwhelming that it leaves you unsure of whether you are making the right choices. So, focus for leaders is really about having genuine clarity on all those things and carefully select where to put their energy and attention to ignite thoughtful actions.

What are the biggest challenges that are affecting the focus of leaders at the moment – particularly those with international responsibilities?

All leaders are troubled by inner distractions, which are mainly fears around not being good enough for their roles – so, tying in with impostor syndrome – or not being valuable enough to their organisations, or not making the right decisions. It is long acknowledged that leadership can be a lonely place, and those inner distractions emphasise that.

But what really increases the scale of distraction for leaders in the global arena is the way everything is currently aligned – or perhaps I should say misaligned. A conflict on one side of the world will affect companies, supply chains and employees on the other side. Crises and problems are no longer local. They are instantly globalised.

As I mentioned, we are more connected than ever and the speed of information is flowing faster all the time – and in some cases, that ease of connectivity can be quite positive. But the flipside is that it also creates what I call a ‘collective blur,’ where everyone feels joined together by this rapid flow of information. In many respects, this is highly confusing and disorienting. As such, people and organisations alike rush from one commitment to another.

So, part of the challenge for global leaders is to help their organisations and people move towards a more united focus, where they are concentrating on business goals and overcoming the logistical problems caused by volatile events.

Another challenge behind the collective blur is that life in organisations always feels as though it is going too fast. For example, we are seeing the end of quarterly reports and a shift towards monthly reports. But perhaps leaders can approach this in a different way.

Rather than being afraid of not keeping up with their rivals, through true focus they could be more ‘in the present’ and align themselves with the good. Not just for the sake of commercial success – but to ensure they are making the right decisions when it comes to geopolitical conflicts, disinformation and wellbeing.

Leaders with that willpower will ignite a huge amount of motivation among their employees. If leaders can develop organisations in which their people are better equipped to sharpen their focus, their staff will be able to tune out the demands of the accelerating ‘attention industry.’

The more we are caught up in the attention industry, the less time we have for meaningful interaction with each other. We end up in a blur of echo chambers where that industry continues to exploit our impaired self-control by feeding us irrelevant information.

Whenever those echo chambers become polarised, we end up with big problems. So, any multinational leader has a major responsibility to bring focus into their organisation, so that their ‘tribe’ can learn to resist the attention industry’s whims and do their jobs with full concentration. and purposeful thoughts.

An effective leader may look at competitors trying to jump on every new trend and say: “What happens if, for the time being, we stand still? Let’s focus on what we know we are good at and can do well, rather than trying to be something that – for now – we are not.”

Which steps can leaders take to reclaim their focus if they feel it has drifted?

Choose simplicity. Give yourself a framework of fundamental things, which could be as simple as daily routines, that will provide you with constant clarity. It’s remarkable how that can stimulate the creative instinct. Indeed, I would say that to think outside the box, you need to create your own box – by which I mean a room inside your mind or your soul where you feel comfortable and know exactly who you are.

Once you have set up that psychological, cognitive space (or mental home), you have somewhere to return to – and reflect in – when you have faced a barrage of noise and blur at work.

True focus is about understanding who you are, what you can do, what you are willing to do and why you do it. In other words, it’s about purpose. It is about ignoring what´s irrelevant. With that in mind, it’s every bit as vital to have a not-to-do list as a to-do list. That’s a more important asset now than at any other time in history.

As part of that, leaders must start to regard their attention as a valuable tool or instrument that they need to take care of. They must treat their own attention with respect, and not give it away to everyone everywhere all the time.

A fragmented approach to attention is exactly the sort of factor that could obscure precision-based thinking – and prevent you from succeeding in your shot-by-shot shooting match. Be precise. Be disciplined. Resist impulses.

What sorts of benefits will leaders be able to bring to their lives by reclaiming their focus?

In the process of moving their organisations from collective blur to a more united focus, leaders will open up their capacity to act as role models.

They will gain an improved ability to resist impulses, stay on target, achieve clarity and connect not just with themselves, but with those around them, too. They will have greater scope to communicate with their people on a deep and important level – and will also become better listeners. Moreover, Focus will help them maintain calm in the storm, find fortitude amid boundless complexity, and promote collective excellence.

But it is crucial to note that leaders will also see a huge improvement in their own gratitude – not just for the efforts of their employees, but for their own leadership role and place in their organisation, and the world. And that all flows from everyone working in a more focused, united way towards the organisation’s purpose.

Voices from our community: Christina Bengtsson is a global expert, adviser and mentor in the art of achieving a focused mindset. She is also an ex-military officer, a precision shooting world champion and founder of the Reclaim Focus initiative

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