How to Stay Focused and Flexible
Navigating the tension between two contrasting qualities takes maturity. Leaders tend to be tenacious or kind, for example, but not both.
Either/or is easier than both/and.
The ability to be two things at the same time creates opportunity and extends influence.
The Ten Tensions of Leadership:
- Tenacity and kindness.
- Vision and openness.
- Kindness and candor.
- Passion and quietness.
- Analysis and initiative.
- Planning and people.
- Solitude and relationships.
- High expectations and helpfulness.
- Decisiveness and listening.
- Focus and flexibility.
Focus and flexibility.
Leaders who chase butterflies don’t get anywhere. Racehorse blinders – winkers or blinkers – enhance speed by preventing distraction.
If you plan to get somewhere, you can’t go everywhere.
Flexibility seems like a frustrating distraction. But, turbulent times require you to adapt as you go.
Conversation and topic:
Conversations quickly land in the ditch. They waste time. You walk away wondering what happened. Comments and contributions often seem disconnected, even distracting. It’s frustrating.
Display focus and flexibility during conversations. Stay focused on the topic but flexible as to input and outcome.
When comments seem distracting, ask how they’re connected. That’s being focused and flexible.
It’s not unusual for me to ask:
- What brought that to mind?
- How is that connected to our conversation?
- I don’t see the connection to the topic at hand.
- Why is that important to you right now?
Surprisingly, the reply often opens my mind. Their comment is connected but I didn’t see it.
Occasionally, conversations are hijacked. Someone has an agenda. In this case, stay focused.
- Ask for the connection to the topic at hand.
- If there is no connection, thank them for their input.
- Say, lets discuss that at a later time.
- Refocus on the topic at hand. Right now I need your input on….
Bonus: These comments and questions can be made kindly.
Where else must leaders stay focused and flexible?
How do you stay focused and flexible?
Interesting topic, and very timely. I have actually been using this method a lot lately to keep the conversations focused (as I am tired of getting off topic when time is of the essence). As ‘spurs’ have been brought up by others, I entertain it for a short period to see if it is relevant (by asking the types of questions shown in the article above).
People are engaged with the results so far. 1) they appreciate the input from others and the attempt to connect a different view point (the purpose of open discussion and collaboration!); 2) they further more appreciate the FOCUS of the meeting – don’t allow the meeting to be hijacked by someone else with an alternate agenda.
Thanks for the insight and prompting for other questions to ask (and do so in a ‘kind’ way).
Much appreciate you sharing your experience and insight. It’s encouraging.
Hi Dan, indeed focus is always needed and always a work in progress for a good leader – who can’t afford to be over-focused or they miss what is happening around them and wont be keeping enough balls in the air, for me it’s about being very focused on the task at hand whilst having a constant awareness of my and my businesses environment and the people who work with and for me.
Problems are seldom singular in their nature and by dissecting them we can often simplify the outcome and make more progress by drawing attention to the ‘critical few’ things that must be done or attended to. The distraction can often be relevant to the issue but not at all significant within the context of the situation you have right now, having strategies as you suggest to park these less relevant matters is an absolute must. If you are going to get return for effort, swiftness of action and effective outcomes.
I got the image of someone lifting their head out of a hole when I read your comment. I admire someone who can dig deep and focus in AND lift their head up and see what’s going on.
“Problems are seldom singular…” something to always keep in mind.
Well of course I can only speak for me based on my experience.
Therefore, the idea I have the ability to do two things at once is an illusion.
Light on or off. Water flowing out of the faucet or not. The two biggies asking for and following my Higher Powers Will or my own self will and operating out of Love or fear……period.
So gut level rigorous honesty about who and what I am, who you are, who God is is a great place to start. Got those messed up not much progress ahead!!!!! Lol
As far as staying focused and flexible no Spiritual Master who has ever shared a glorious divine thought has ever really said anything different….just used different words. They all say Gods moment of creation is RIGHT NOW.
So if I am not an idiot anymore and tried and failed in every conceivable way I become teachable. Kinda blows it takes failing in every conceivable way to become teachable, don’t it?
When teachable to the moment I can choose to see Gods plan unfold right in front of me. Once I took the position of an Interested Observer I found it to be quite an interesting show!
I found I need not get emotionally involved in outcomes and just get some popcorn and watch. Occasionally asking God if he has anything he/she needs from me and then shut up and listen/feel for an intuitive thought of what I might do next.
After a little practice I found that habit is worth forming.
Or I can chase the whims of my ego and try to wrestle happiness and satisfaction out of this life only if I manage it well. I found that to be an absolute black hole of nothingness.
Like Geraldine(flip wilson) always said….what you see, what you get!!!!
SP back to focusing on Now!!!!
Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, Scott.
Geez Dan what simlple logic applied to human communication. I don’t know that there a thing I could add. Good examples of questions to ask which stir deeper conversation. Sometimes the correlation never quite becomes clear but the question itself often brings focus back to the issue at hand. “Really good one Dan”! ‘Rock-on’
I started asking those “obvious” questions a couple years ago. I was reluctant to ask before that because I didn’t want to seem dumb and/or I didn’t want to be adversarial. Frankly, both my concerns were ill founded.
I appreciate the good word.
In our business, most of these conversations happen in meetings and I have a few techniques I use:
1. Send out an agenda ahead of time and ask for input/additions but resist the urge to ask at the end of the agenda items if anyone wants to talk about anything else. The goal is not to fill the time allotted.
2. If someone goes off-topic and is discussing something not on the agenda then suggesting putting the item in the “parking lot”. The “parking lot” items should be a section of any mtg notes or action items document that acts as a reminder to add the topic to the next or a future agenda. Search on the term to find more specifics.
3. Make it clear that one of your personal goals is to help bring focus to all conversations and you are simply trying to respect everyone’s time. It’s definitely an acquired skill, one that I have yet to master, to walk the fine line of being kind while pursuing accountability.
Truly appreciate your experience, insight, and candor. I’m with you. Still on the journey.
I found that making it personal softens what can be an awkward moment.
“You lost me on that…can you help me connect your comment with the topic on the table?”
I like asking that because the one giving the input may have a creative way to address the issue…one that was off my radar.
I agree with you that if you want to do somewhere, you can not go everywhere. I also like the example of racehorse blinders. Many times, people get lost in environmental flow. They want to do something else,but since something else is more important and valued there, people keep diverting their focus. And they neither achieve what is their core strength nor what they want to achieve. I agree with you that preventing distraction is very much needed to achieve goals.But it is challenging task because people generally expect attention and appreciation of what they do or plan to do. So, I think, tendency to get noticed or appreciation should be avoided to get focused to our goals. At the same time, one should start developing the skills that is required. To learn new skills,one should be flexible but ensure that, the effort put up to learn new skill should not divert focus to achieve goals.
Leaders should be flexible to the ideas and put strong reason to accept those ideas. I follow the same practice. I listen to various ideas and question my strength. Sometimes, I wish I do not know most of the things that is needed. So, I start learning new knowledge and skills. But, I keep believing my strength and work more to make it pertinent and interesting.
One of the things you said really caught my attention. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
“So, I think, tendency to get noticed or appreciation should be avoided to get focused to our goals.”
I can really see how appreciation can be a distraction when we are showing appreciation for an unrelated topic/behavior or project. I’d like to say we can always so appreciation. Your comment challenges me.
Ajay on your appreciation statement. Did you mean people like to take conversations out of context because they want to get noticed for what they know or are doing?
In the meetings I participate I tend to see people take conversations of track because they add too much value to the conversations. They want to look smart or they simply have some problem and they want the people in the room to fix it.
Is the I matter too attitude.
Great point and question Crazy.
Smart set of new duds that emperor is wearing eh! 😉
Suggestions noted. Thanks.
I would say leaders must be focused on stating, clarifying, and promoting the vision while flexible with the manner in which people internalize it.
I have seen to many leaders with the my way out the high way attitude. This ends up in three people just complying and giving the bare minimum. Leadership fail.
Great add… stay flexible on the way people internalize the vision. So easy to say. But, when we expect everyone to be like us, it’s hard to let them be themselves. 🙂
Be as the bamboo…rigid, yet flexible. Growing, yet rooted well.
In reading the comments, I saw a group of prairie dogs popping their heads up periodically to scan for safety, options, that sense of community, then back to dig we must.
Being aware of the short game while seeing the long game, that duality of vision leaders must have and hand off.
How to do it…have fun, don’t take all the world serious…unless your a Yanks fan, then you have real issues. When you genuinely smile, you reset all of of mind/body chemistry, always helpful when under the stresses.
You almost always make me smile, crack up, or do some other undignified thing.
YOu got me thinking about short-term vs long-term and balancing those two biggies. Something to mull over while I’m smiling.
Yoga . . .
YOu and a few others mentioned yoga on my facebook page. I’m not a practitioner so I decided to leave it out. But, it seems several connect yoga to being focused and flexible. 🙂
This is great and mirrors examples from indivduals and companies that leverage both sides of a polarity (or dilemma/paradox/tension). This is work I am trying to bring to healthcare (desparate need) but they are so mired in “either/or” thinking, it has been difficult.
I see this as a great way to ask myself these same questions when I am off track or just not focusing on what my plans were.
I have tried many things this just might help.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
God bless you
Sorry, LOL if you asked me what this would have to do with what you are saying I would have to grin and say well….Guess I lost focus see this is an issue with me.
I did love what you said. Thank you.
Thanks for your clear ideas. It’s really important to deal with practical skills like this to understand how to navigate these tensions.
I’d like to add another element to open up broader coping skills in the leadership dance with paradoxical demands: expanding our leadership story so that we have access to the skills we need in the many tense or paradoxical situations we might face!
I’ve argued before that we all need to develop our shapeshifter leadership skills in order to strategically shift between the roles we must fill in our organizations. That’s basically about having a flexible understanding of our authenticity as a leader, knowing our identity and authentic story as a process. We need to align our flexible authenticity with our organizational roles in order to offer our unique skills and perspectives, and even challenge the status quo, without tripping ourselves up.
You can read more about this at my blog, Lead Me On (leadershipspirit.wordpress.com), where I use your excellent list as inspiration! Thanks, Dan.
Love this list of the Ten Tensions! So true!