“Get your head in the game” is the clarion cry of coaches demanding athletes regain focus and bring their talents to bear on the success of the team. While no one can ignore the extraordinary physical talents and capacities of athletes, in some ways the far more demanding effort is what goes on in their minds. That’s incredibly true for successful and effective leaders as well.
Focus is what makes it possible to achieve extraordinary things. Bringing your focus to bear on the efforts and activities of your team are a force multiplier. No, I don’t mean, “micro-managing” their efforts. I mean making certain they are seeing the next steps, thinking through their options and making the optimum choices as they deploy your organization’s resources.
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? That’s not an idle question. In today’s fast-moving environment, accidental voids always get filled by someone. How else to explain the rapid rise of Uber, UberX, Lyft and a host of other ride-sharing services fueled by mobile applications spreading across the United States and 34 other countries? Was there really no one in the taxi industry thinking about how Internet technology could disrupt their business? The operating model of limiting taxi medallions and licenses while relying on regulatory control and oversight of personal transportation has been leapfrogged by a new mobile business model for the 21st century. Incredible. There are surprises waiting for other industries too.
Leaders cannot just wait for the threat to show itself. First-mover strategy creates huge advantages for those coming into your marketplace. Done well, these new enterprises can force you onto an uneven playing field, where the odds are stacked against you. Think about Facebook or LinkedIn. If you’re a brand or in business, you need to be there, whether you like it or not. For many, the low cost of entry makes social media an easy choice. The downside, is it also disconnects you from the big data being collected behind the scenes by the giants in social media.
Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric made a similar point about the vast amount of data collected behind the scenes from manufactured “smart” products like diesel engines, refrigerators, washers, dryers, jet engines and more. Virtually all manufacturers have outsourced the collection of data from these devices and in the absence of any serious analysis or review, insights and the accompanying opportunities lie fallow. If you are chasing peak performance from your organization and your teams, you can’t afford to let this approach go unexplored.
Your clients, customers, members and stakeholders are telling you things about your organization in a thousand ways by their action and inaction. The first-time buyer, repeat buyers, new members, renewing members, skulkers, stalkers and observers–all offer valuable knowledge–if you’re paying attention to them, paying attention to you and your organization.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. The key is reminding yourself why you’re here.
Ask yourself, what do I want to achieve? Imagine yourself reaching that goal. How will it feel? What will it take to get there?
Can you see it in your mind? Mental rehearsal plays an enormous part in helping you focus and move toward your goals in a calm and purposeful way, minimizing the stress you may otherwise face.
Walk away from analysis paralysis. You won’t get every strategy exactly right. Precision, not perfection should be your approach to complex tasks. If you focus on making every single step along the way perfect, you may distract yourself from the most important effort. Getting started. There’s no such thing as a lost opportunity. Someone always finds it. Make sure it’s you.
Find a focus phrase. The ancient Sanskrit word mantra comes to mind. Mantra is a sacred utterance, numinous sound, a syllable, word, or group of words. The value of mantra comes when it is audible, visible, or present in thought. What words help to keep you on task and focused? My mantra for the 21st century is “take a closer look”. What’s yours?
Dispel the doubters. There are always those who are in doubt. As a leader, you should not be one of them. If you’ve done your research, thought carefully and thoroughly about your course of action, engaged your team in the process and are now implementing the plan efficiently and effectively, confidence is what’s called for. As former Secretary of State General Colin Powell reminds us when it comes to leaders, “people want to share your confidence, however thin, not your turmoil however real.”
Being a leader is tough work even under the best of circumstances. Those around you often mistakenly believe you get to do whatever you want, come and go as you please and decide the day’s agenda. In truth you get to do exactly what needs to be done to keep your organization thriving and alive for the near and foreseeable future. That’s a tough challenge by any standard. Getting your head in the game is the first place to start.