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The HBR McKinsey Awards (est. 1959) are judged by an independent panel of business and academic leaders, and commend outstanding articles published each year in the Harvard Business Review. The first place winner in 2013 was Daniel Goleman‘s The Focused Leader.

Key Point: It ticks me off. I watch executives at meetings who can’t concentrate for five minutes on the conversation. At the first pocket buzz (most are smart enough to turn off their ringer) they desperately grab their phone and drift to the latest text or email. How effective are they at these meetings? They are often the worst contributors.

Geez! Let’s face facts: Attention has come under siege, largely by mobility platforms and applications like email, texts, search, etc. While all these technologies have tremendous advantages, the data suggests we have to learn and relearn to be more intentional about FOCUS!

One of the world’s best known psychologists, Daniel Goleman, looks at how effective leaders shepherd their most valuable resource: Their own attention. Goleman is co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University and his latest book is entitled Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. He describes three fundamental elements, what he dubs TRIPLE FOCUS:

“Inner” focus refers to self-awareness and self-management: How well we can tune in to our guiding values, for instance, or know our strengths and limits – which in turn gives us a realistic sense of self-confidence—and also handle our distressing emotions so they don’t interfere with getting things done, marshal our positive emotions to stay motivated in working toward out goals, and bounce back from setbacks.

“Other” focus describes how well we attune to people: our empathy, which allows us to understand how people perceive things, how they feel, and what we can do to help them be at their best. And tuning in to others this way provides the basis for skill in competencies like motivating employees, persuasion and influence, negotiation and conflict resolution, and — increasingly important – teamwork and collaboration.

“Outer” focus has to do with how well we can sense the large forces that shape our world – whether organizational dynamics, like whose opinion matters most for a decision, or economic forces such as how a new technology will roil a market, or environmental trends like the new value placed on lower-carbon processes. Outer awareness allows a leader, for example, to formulate a winning strategy.

How good are you at all three? Does your command of Triple Focus drive excellence? Are you seeing the results?

Character Moves:

  1. Develop your “Triple Focus” Skills: Antennae up! It’s a bit of a paradox but FOCUS for excellence requires our ability to develop “triple focus” skills. Knowing how to focus on our inner thoughts and feelings, to be present and empathic with other people and to pay attention to larger systems and societal trends are essential components of success today. This requires intense presence and attention. Know how to recognize and embrace all three!
  2. Be mindful, intentional and use “smart practices” to increase Triple Focus. You choose! Don’t let a buzz, chime, click, and/or anything else take you off course. Learn how to use smart practices like meditation and breath control to bring you back to focus. At the same time, remember that intentional focus is key when we’re learning new things but consider the baseball batter who overthinks his swing. There are certain areas of our life we should put on autopilot (everyday habitual activities) to free up mind space for creative thinking. However, remember that multitasking is usually a sucker punch. The research is there: Science tells us we are less productive and even accident-prone when we multitask, (e.g. Did the last guy you politely flipped off while driving have one ear to a cell phone?) Be present! As renowned philosopher Eckhart Tolle points out: Your mind is not you. Control it, not the other way around.
  3. Be intentional about “day dreaming.” Thank goodness for the shower! Where would creative breakthroughs and unexpected insights come from if it were not for future projections, self‐reflection, innovative brainstorming and reframing memories? When you intentionally allow your mind to wander guilt free, creativity often flourishes. The other paradox… Focus on not focusing to help you focus.
  4. Fight attention fatigue.
 I was reminded of this last week during my short vacation: Take a rest! Find a completely different but immersive activity to engage in such as exercising, connecting with a trusted friend, taking a day off or a vacation. Also learn that there are times in life when we feel overloaded and overwhelmed where we would be better off subtracting than adding to our workload. We are all able to better focus upon returning after a rest and/or after simplifying and de-cluttering.

Triple Focus in The Triangle,