Typically, leaders see and do. Surprisingly, successful leaders also learn to ignore things.
Edward de Bono correctly observes, “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.”
Six things leaders ignore:
Ignore occasional failure in others. Let people fail and learn on their own.
Ignore occasional insults. People won’t always understand your passion or vision. They may say things that feel like insults, let it go. In addition, people who say, “I told you so,” aren’t worth your attention.
Ignore your own failures and successes. If past failures discourage more than instruct, forget them. If past successes inspire arrogance, forget them. Sometimes it’s better to forget what is behind in order to move forward.
Ignore stupid counsel. Say thank-you for the input, forget it, and move on. A word of caution, sometimes wise counsel sounds stupid. When people with a proven track record sound stupid, listen again, reconsider, and ask questions. Their counsel may not be stupid.
Ignore persistent critics. Turn away from those who always see the bad and never see the good.
Ignore rules. Innovation is rule breaking. Helen Frankenthaler said, “Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”
Warning: Ignoring things can be dangerous. Jim Evans commented, “Another way to lose control is to ignore something when you should address it.”
Ignoring things may take you further than acting on them. You may be more effective and more efficient when you turn away and let some things go.
What should leaders ignore?
How do you decide when to ignore something?
What pulls you back should be ignored. What forces you ahead should not be ignored. Any thing that inhibits your goal, priority should be ignored. Things that do not affect your goal but do affect your reputation, character and integrity should not be ignored. Usually ignoring things require strong moral and mental power. People with higher and exceptional goal have higher level of tolerance, perseverance and resilience. They do not easily get perturbed and concentrate on their goal. There are people, who fight with mundane and less important things. These things do not prevent their goals, but due to low tolerance power and more arrogance they fight with tiny things. In the process, they forget their goal. They try to win every battle but lose war. The person with higher goal, does not bother about battles, but tries to win war.
When to ignore is relatively stronger question. Low concentrated person faces and sees many unseen and even perceived problems. Whereas, a highly concentrated person usually does not see many problems. It is because, concentrated person only sees his goal whereas less concentrated person sees many others things.
Decision to ignore is based on priority. More than having bigger goal is to tackle immediate priority. Priority can not be ignored for the shake of having higher goal. So, the important things to know is- what is important and how to achieve it. When what and how are aligned, you have better opportunity to concentrate towards your goal. Concentration, automatically overlooks many problems which in fact do not have any bearing on your decision and goal and priority.
thanks for the post Ajay. I agree with you that When to ignore is much more difficult and that prioritization is very important. My fear as Dan points out is ignoring something that may not seem important at the moment and yet down the road clearly should not have been ignored. I guess your first comments should help in that regard. “what pulls you back should be ignored. what forces you ahead should not be ignored.” Thanks for the advice, regards, Al
Thanks for your post. Your opening sentence is a real winner, one that I’ll keep with me for guidance.
I’ve been mulling over a post on priorities and now you bring it up here and connect it to ignoring things. Great advice.
Glad you stopped in,
Ajay is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. His perspective comes from years in the financial industry and education. His bio: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupt
Hi Dan, interesting question and one which is very timely difficult. It will be interesting to see what the community says on this one. I believe you have set down a pretty comprehensive framework of what and when to ignore things. For me it is difficult to ignore anything that comes my way. I think i prioritize as to levels of action or inaction depending on the context. Something either quickly rises to the top of my “to do list” or is placed in the “review this later” box. Like you correctly state one must be careful to ignore “stuff” without first recognizing the source. It just might be a great piece of wisdom that we don’t appreciate with our present lens yet will become a nugget of knowledge when viewed at the right moment. My own personal tendency is to ignore a lot less then I probably should and I might become more efficient if I developed some steadfast rules as to “what to ignore” and “when to ignore” For now as a lot of other things it is a work in progress and I am looking forward to learning and seeing what the LF community has to teach us. Thanks for the post. regards, Al
I wrote this post because I think many leaders find it challenging to ignore things. Mostly, I wanted to start the conversation.
When you wrote, “recognize the source,” I immediately thought about those over us. It can be perilous to ignore them. However, I’m intrigued by Sutton’s ideas about “creative incompetence” and “constructive defiance” as tools in the battle to ignore stupid “stuff.”
Thankful you dropped in this morning,
Dr. Diaz is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Originally from Cuba, he currently directs Georgia’s largest independent medical practice. His bio: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/al-diaz
“Creative incompetence” and “constructive defiance” what a mouthful in just 4 words. I am going to stop and think about these for a while. Sutton is certainly a genius when it comes to simplifying what appears at times to be “unsolvable.” thanks for sharing these, regards, Al
Breaking rules is a key point. I had not thought about the need to break them to be innovative but you are right. True innovation means going against the ways we have always done things which means breaking some rules. Good leaders seem to have a knack for knowing which rules to break.
Short comments affirming an idea always encourage. Thanks for taking the time to share. Have a great day.
Best to you,
Hi Dan, Chris, Al, Ajay,
Ignoring is a sense of judgment as you have all noted. It is also a sense of timing.
You might find it appropriate to ignore/overlook something right now yet highlighted in the future. When I teach and facilitate team building, I often postpone mentioning some smaller issues when bigger points are more critical. Later it is quite possible that a minor point self-emerges as more critical and then you address it.
Timing is integral to ignoring.
I’m taking from your insight that what is ignored today may be “UN” ignored tomorrow. Perhaps “creative postponement” expresses your thought.
You always bring a twist of thought or new idea, thank you.
Kate Nasser is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. She is Customer Service Consultant that focuses on People skills. If you haven’t watched one of her videos, you should. Her bio: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/kate-nasser
I have learned to ignore people who say it can’t be done or “you can’t”.
I used to use it as motivation to achievement, now I refuse to allow another to dictate my passions or my actions.
In the famous words of George Bush “I’m the decider!” 😉
How to decide what not to ignore? I read futurecast books like HS Dent and the next 100 years. These people are pretty darn good at predicting the present future, the one we’ll be living in very soon. As Wayne Gretzky said “Skate to where the puck is going to be.”
Wonderful and useful subject.
The answers from Ajay and Al are great.
For me is quite difficult to ignore things . I am aware that I must make a balance in what is really necessary to ignore and what should be definitely not ignored. I certainly can not ignore people. Also I am not ignoring my connection with God which gives me a lot of positive energy to keep going further. I am not ignoring listening, enjoying small things like for example a good music, or dance. I am not ignoring learning.
-How do you decide when to ignore something?
I decide to ignore something only when I understand that in some cases my good intentions or my contribution can not make a difference in good.
All the best,
This is a bit like the minister that married my husband and I, his advice was: go into marriage with your eyes wide open, but live in your marriage with your eyes half shut.
There are times when leaders have to have their eyes wide open–to ensure that they are being realistic and have the full story. But you are right, too open we don’t know when to ignore, or keep the eyes half shut. This means you have to triage–as thing enter your consciousness, decide on there relative importance and your relative control/influence. If they are low in either of these, shut those eyes!!!
Love your “triage” concept — this is exactly how I decide how/when/what to “ignore” for now.
As for the minister’s comment — so on target.
Thanks for sharing.
I often ignore labels and boxes. Because all too often they function as limiting devices. They can be useful information, they can tell us how hard someone has worked or perhaps things about their nature. They can also give us unfounded stereo-typical gossip, create walls and keep us “in our place.”
Labels also bring up preconceived ideas that sometimes (many times) draw upon old information and stereo-types too. Blondes, women drivers, teenagers, short people, people who turn red when they talk, much less titles like manager, administrative assistant, mail-room clerk, etc. Labels put us in our place – sometimes to our detriment. And labels feed our ego.
There is a balance in this, because certainly, I don’t want to ignore the fact that someone is president of their company and an important person in whatever process I’m involved with. The position should be respected of course. However, I do not speak or deal with them as if they were a god and do not hold back (or give more) than I would anyway in my dealings or conversations. I also do not deal with the mail-room clerk with any less personal respect either, and sometimes you might be surprised what fantastic ideas that character might have.
It doesn’t matter the title; be straight with all box types. Although I should be aware of labels, if my focus were to be on labels, I’d lose a lot of valuable insight in this world. So take note, but then I ignore it.
Thanks for this important point about labels. Labels, even if well intended, can be dangerous because they tend to stick. A negative label, especially, can be difficult to throw off and can be very damaging if the label appears to be at odds with the corporate culture.
Labels, both positive and negative, also increase the risk of making premature judgments and not taking the time to truly know the person being labeled. As a result, an organization can inadvertently deny itself the opportunity to benefit from the talents of an employee because those talents can’t be seen behind the label.
nice point on the premature judgments.
Fantastic Post! Thank you for the insight and inspiration. Sometimes, we ‘Leaders’ need a little nudge to get us off and running, again. “Leadership is like a roller coaster ride, it has it’s ups and downs – the trick is learning how to adjust oneself to each experience.”
Great said Shannon 🙂
“Leadership is like a roller coaster ride, it has it’s ups and downs – the trick is learning how to adjust oneself to each experience.”
We all have to learn, like Steve Jobs said ” Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”!
all the best to all,
Great Post Dan, BTW thanks for the Robert Sutton reference. His article in this month’s Harvard Business Review is quite interesting.
What should leaders ignore?
In my career, individuals who have made it to “Leadership” roles didn’t do it by ignoring things. One of the great challenges in becoming a leader is knowing what to ignore and what to pay attention to.
In the safety arena, leaders and safety professionals have been plagued for decades with paying a lot of attention to lagging metrics (i.e., employee gets hurt becomes a tick mark on a chart). It is only now that safety pros are starting to pay attention to leading metrics (e.g., number of employees that have received safety training, safety hazards discovered and corrected, etc.). The challenge is convincing a leader to pay attention to leading metrics and ignore lagging metrics because for the latter the damage is already done; whereas, the former gives you a fighting chance to prevent the damage.
How do you decide when to ignore something?
The approach I use goes like this. We all apply various filters to incoming data and information. Data is (are) raw and information is processed data that answers “who,” “what,” “where” and “when” questions. Once this collection of data and information are processed it becomes knowledge, which answers “how” questions.
With knowledge in hand, what do you do with it? If nothing, you commit it to your memory bank along with corresponding knowledge and information you have gained over the years. Here is an example that leads you to the next level. When you were in elementary school you memorized the times table (2 x 2 = 4). However, when you were asked to multiply 1234 x 6789 you were stuck. You had to apply cognitive and analytical skills to provide the answer. This is called understanding, which involves synthesizing previously held knowledge and information into new knowledge or information.
Wisdom, the final stage, occurs when you decide or make a judgment as to whether what you have learned is right or wrong, good or bad, allowing you to either ignore what you have learned or take action.
As my mentor Russ Ackoff once wrote, “to have wisdom requires a soul, which resides as much in the heart as in the mind.” Computers and machines can manipulate Data, Information, Knowledge, and even Understanding; however, they do not possess Wisdom or as Russ has said, “a soul is something that, in general, will never possess a machine.”
Achieving the Wisdom level of learning allows one to decide whether or not to “ignore things.”
That was an interesting reply, Jim, and I totally concur with your closing thought — the wisdom level of learning (to which there is such a long road) — really helps us develop an effective filter for what to ignore and what to attend to. I have referred here on LF several times about our organization’s difficult transition to a Third Party Administrator (from a previous vendor). There were issues that we got very verbal and worked up about that were probably, in retrospect, things we should have ignored whereas wisdom would have led us to dig a little deeper for the more deep seated problems that needed to be addressed with conviction.
I enjoyed this post. In reality – it does so often come down to timing. Turning away from persistent critics is sound advice, but they my be damaging you and therefore not to act could be something you later regret.
Thanks for your kind words. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to focus on problems and complaints. I’m still learning that a negative focus doesn’t take me very far. However, a solution, progress focus takes me where I want to go.
Wise counsel. I personally sometimes carry too much ballast – some of which I can, and should, throw overboard. Thanks for reminding me.
Thank you for your comment. Bombs away! Heck, I bet we can always run back and pick up something we should have hung on to.. 🙂
Ignore anything which does not serve your stake holders. As a leader, you are called to serve those you lead and their community. When in doubt, ask, “does this action/counsel serve my stake holders?” If not, it should likely be ignored.
A great post and reminder. This is one to bookmark and reference on occasion to keep ourselves focused on what is important. Thanks for sharing Dan.
Great comment. You packed great insight into on short sentence. “Ignore anything which does not serve your stake holders.”
Best to you,
Ignore saying too much. Do not share your diamonds with the swine. The more they know, the more they can hate you for. We live in an information age. However, that does not mean everyone needs to know what you are doing, when you are doing it, how you are doing it……etc.
I go to work. I do my job. I go home. My family is number one.
Thanks for adding to the list of things to ignore.
Have a great week,
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Seems to cover all the bases.
One of my greatest mentors shared the following with me, “If they slight you, let it go. If they slight the mission, let them go.” Changed my life.
Thanks Jason. Powerful quote. Love it.