Are you in the room?
In his book The Impact Code, Nigel Risner writes that about the importance of being present - “If you’re in the room, be in the Room!” It’s a phrase we hear often in business and is generally taken to mean concentrate and focus. CEOs and investors sometimes give it another meaning – “If I can’t see you, you’re not here” i.e. I need to know where you are at all times but that isn't the intention here.
The room we speak of is metaphorical and symbolises your activity at the moment. It’s like “being in the game”. The game may not be yours (although in most sports participation makes you choose a side) and you may contribute to the outcome rather than being the outright winner. Rather like Team Sky in cycling or Mercedes in Formula 1, you may be actively participating but the outright winner is already pre-ordained. Your contribution is nevertheless critical to the outcome. “If you’re in the room” then means that you are involved in something and whether it is your initiative or you are supporting someone else “the room” is your task.
The second part “Be in the room” means no half measures, no distractions and no loss of focus. It is very easy to find your mind wandering during an important meeting or phone call or assignment for a variety of reasons and this loss of focus is counterproductive to your use of time and your output. This isn’t made any easier by the fact that we can receive information (hearing) at four times the speed that we can send information (speaking) leaving 75 per cent capacity for the brain to wander.
An essential skill for any leader is to be able to recognise the difference between the attentive participant and the one who has lost focus. Only then can you gauge the impact and be able to do something about it. It is your job to galvanise the team and help them to contribute as fully as they can. Sadly, many leaders don’t know their teams well enough to recognise this and direct reports don’t always open up with their challenges. Some leaders deliberately don’t want to know their staff personally and this leaves them at a disadvantage.
Swinging the door wide open
Finding out what distracts you and your team and being able to do something about it requires Emotional Intelligence. That is to say the ability to recognise the tell tale signs that help you know that you are performing below par. Draw any parallel with sport and you will see sportsmen and women having routines to regain their focus.
So what can distract you? There are generally four main areas of distraction that can cause your mind to wander and lose focus. Your work, your peer-group of colleagues, your personal well-being and your home-life. We are complex animals and any one of these things can be distracting to us let alone the combination of them all.
- Our work is made up of a series of challenges with each one taxing us in different ways and while we may hope to compartmentalise the challenges and bring our minds to focus on the task in hand it is not always that easy. Tim Minchin in his great UWE acceptance speech advocates “micro-ambition” and suggests that you should concentrate “as long as you can and as hard as you can on the [one] shiny thing in front of you”. In principle, a good idea and precisely what we are aiming for but it’s not always so easy when the tender you pitched for hasn’t been awarded yet or the awards speech you have to give next week is burning a hole in the back of your head.
- Our colleagues. On a Friday night it’s easy to forget the disagreements and confrontations that have clouded our working week and remember why we like working together. Unfortunately, for much of the working week, we may find ourselves locked in repetitive conflict adopting the same positions and replaying the same arguments over and over again. The inevitability of this can be hugely distracting yet and the baggage of previous disagreements and compromises can make it hard to remain focused.
- Ourself. Health and well-being is important too. Even if sometimes we underestimate and de-prioritise it. Not quite feeling ourselves can be a powerful reason for becoming distracted whether it is our health, our fitness or our state of mind.
- Our Home Life. The list here is endless. Ranging from the arguments, to the bank balance to the geographical whereabouts of our family and the growing list of maintenance jobs that have to be done.
This is real life and it would be foolish to assume that it can all be left easily at the door. So as a leader or manager, how do you establish just how focused each member of your team currently is? How do you ensure that they are applying as much as possible of the expertise that you hired them for?
The answer is surprisingly simple - Just ask! The more insight you have into each individual, the more able you will be to work on strategies to help address the distractions leaving the team free to focus on the business challenges ahead.
Eddie Kilkelly is Managing Director at insynergi
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