The Principle of Focus

I returned from speaking at a conference a few days ago and had a great time interacting with old friends and new friends.  I was able to do some teaching on leadership while I was there and had a couple of opportunities for some Q & A.  I had made the statement during one of my messages that “the key to complexity is not simplicity, but focus”.  I have often made that statement about leadership and stand by it.  I usually preface that statement with the idea that if you are not dealing with some level of complexity then you are not really leading anything of significance.

A question arose about what I meant by focus over simplicity.  In the heat of the moment I didn’t think I provided a very credible answer-so let me try again.

Complexity implies that the leadership setting you are in carries multiple and even competing possibilities.  There are many things you can give your leadership energy to.  The tendency is to fall prey to the urgent-which as Mr. Covey reminds us does not always include the most important priorities.  To try and simply aim for simplicity is not an option.  What is simplicity at that point?  Again, it usually means to give your energy to that which is in the present tense and the most easily accomplished.  But that can end up being an endless cycle-and an ineffective one.

Focus means picking among alternatives and giving your energy to only a few things.  The key to focus is leverage.  The principle of leverage stands behind the principle of focus.  Leverage is defined as “making a small investment to gain a high return”.  In this sense it is choosing the two or three things to give your leadership energy to that when accomplished will provide the greatest return towards gaining ground on your vision.  It’s knocking over the biggest dominoes that will cause a succession of other dominoes to fall without much effort.  Usually high leveraged, focused leadership endeavors, are future oriented and not urgent.  They are often people related.  This often requires saying “no” to the screaming needs and saying “yes” to those that only whisper to you.

Leading something of significance is never simple.  It is complex by its very nature.  This requires focus-thinking carefully about the highest leveraged decisions and efforts you can make.  This is good stewardship.  Lead well!

8 responses to “The Principle of Focus

  1. your title should’ve been: “The Principle of Focus: the key to Oprah’s success” 😉

  2. Timely words for me right now Gary – thanks for putting them down here.

    I hope you guys had a great Thanksgiving – we really missed celebrating our overseas holiday experience. Funny how a uniquely American holiday can have more meaning when celebrated in another country.

  3. Gary – I needed these words today! Thanks! How easy it is to listen to the screams of the urgent and ignore the whispers of that which is most important.

  4. Great post Gary….using these thoughts to launch into a discussion about Jim Collins discussion on the hedgehog principle in our staff meeting.


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