As a leader, when you work on shaping your attention, you develop a capacity to control your behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. Rather than reacting by impulse, you develop the capacity to respond in a mindful way. In other words, you build your skill in thinking before acting.
This is sometimes referred to as “regulating” attention, which involves directing your attention consciously for a specific developmental purpose, and sustaining it there despite distraction.
This skill - regulating your attention - is one of the most valuable for leaders to develop for multiple reasons:
- Attention drives behavior, and leaders are constantly modeling behavior for their organizations. Your team will emulate what you do, not just what you say.
- Where attention goes, awareness flows - and greater awareness leads to better decision making. Through a more complete awareness of multiple perspectives of a situation, you’ll have a more complete picture with which to make effective decisions.
- Attention drives learning. To learn anything, you first need to be able to direct and hold your attention on a desired target. This is true for physical skills like learning to play tennis, and is just as true for leadership skills.
Regulation of your attention involves several steps that direct your attention in ways that help you grow. As an executive coach, I use a method called action learning that describes a process for my clients to engage in every week irrespective of the skill they are trying to learn. This process helps them focus on applying new behaviors for a specific purpose, taking in information about what worked and what didn’t, and extracting the learning from each practice interaction. This process has several steps, depicted below:
- Setting an intention: What you want to learn/change? Examples might include: to be triggered less by challenging situations, or to notice the sensations in my body when I become triggered.
- Taking action: What will you do to change your behavior or try a new way of responding?
- Observation: What’s happening in the moment - both within you and around you? This is the most important of these steps. How did that go? What did you experience in mind and body? What did you notice in others?
- Reflection: What did that mean for you in terms of the context in which the action took place? This is an evaluation of what you did, non-judgmentally.
- Learning: What did you learn from this experience?
- Planning: What will you try again the same way? What will you change in your next practice opportunity? What is the next opportunity to practice?
Your capacity to grow as a leader through regulating your attention is strengthened when you set an intention on where to focus, reflect on your experience and how it brought you closer to your learning goal, and then adjust your actions to maximize your learning outcomes. In other words, you learn from your experience in a conscious and thoughtful way. And, you build on these learnings to create new habits, patterns and ways of being.
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