Tag Archives: Attention

To a new beginning


To be fully and irrevocably alive to this moment is an act of authenticity, and in that aliveness we discover those vast spaces in which we can listen without judgment, act without hesitation, live without fear, and love without expectation. This is the grand paradox of time: to change the future, one must first attend to the present. Like the oak is held in the acorn, the future is held in the present.

So, as the year draws to a close and brings that brief sense of slowing down, instead of thinking of what the future holds in store, can we ask “what does the present hold in store for us?” Can we look for ways to disrupt the momentum of the life we have chosen that keeps us hurtling from one thing to another, giving scant attention to the present? Only then can we become simpler in the choices we make. Only then can we make time for the ordinary. Only then can we attend to our conversations as though they were our last act in this world. Only then can we slow down until we begin to live the moments.

Then, we shall have the possibility of a different kind of life. One in which we have more time and less to worry about; in which, our actions emerge out of the depths of who we are, rather than what we think we ought to be. Then we shall discover the significance and meaning of what we are being called upon to do.

Wishing you a great start to a new beginning…

Sudhanshu

Attention Deficit Leadership

Attention, or rather the lack of it, is fast becoming a leadership challenge for the 21st century. Exponentially growing information, the constant threat of disruption, and an inter-connected world in the palm of our hands brings huge benefits but there is a price to be paid. That price is our ability to attend to what is important: a meeting, a conversation, a problem that needs solving or simply the customer. It could be a question that needs to be asked, but the clutter and noise inside our heads does not allow that question to surface. Like Sisyphus, we keep pushing the same boulder uphill only to see it roll down.

I was traveling in a car the other day with a young, successful executive who had picked me up at the airport to take me to the venue where I was to speak to his top management team. Sitting beside me in the car, he asked me what I thought was the single most important leadership attribute for a senior executive. I turned to him to answer and I noticed that in the meanwhile, he had started texting on his smartphone. I replied that the most important leadership attribute was the ability to listen intently. The irony was lost on him.

The ability to pay attention is a gift that is available to the human mind, and for leaders it is arguably one of their most critical abilities. Attention allows us to perceive and read a situation accurately, process the information faster and with less bias, and take better decisions. It also allows us to reach into higher-level cognitive functions such as empathy, and help us lead with presence. It provides leaders with the ability to read weak signals that emerge from peripheral space: early warning signs that soon grow into big ones. Attention-deficit leaders are more likely to take decisions on incomplete data or not tune into what is what is really emerging around them. In fact, the decision to bring down the curtains on Lehmann Brothers at the start of the economic crisis in 2008 was fuelled more by attention-deficit, lack of sleep and over-caffeinated brains than a strategic imperative to solve the problem.

There is a bigger problem at hand, one that is relevant to workplaces in fast growing economies like India where the sheer speed of getting multiple things done at once, combined with a cultural tendency to hurry, overloads the brain. Recent research in neurology demonstrates clearly that this creates a deficit in the ability of leaders to think clearly. Combined with stress, it becomes a lethal recipe for trying to multi-task, one of the biggest myths from the previous century. Multi-tasking simply does not work. It diminishes productivity and draws upon well-worn and often dysfunctional reactions and behaviors that may be useful for doing repetitive tasks, but are quite useless where we need to think. Combine that with a propensity to believe that staying late in the office equates to productivity, we have a growing crisis at hand.

The antidote: attend to one thing at a time; and when it is done put it away and move to the next task. Ask three questions: “what is the conversation I need to have?”; “what is the action I need to take?”; “what is the behavior I need to demonstrate?”. Remember: the leader’s work is to create significance and meaning for others.