“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker, sometimes referred to as the founder of modern management, is still very accurate with his words. In fact, top leaders focus on both their internal and external worlds, both of which should be covered in all areas for leadership development.
What the Best Leaders Focus On
Most companies have now adopted the ‘people first’ approach and everyone shouts about their emotional intelligence programs. Nevertheless, it’s easy to get caught up in your internal world when working on emotional intelligence.
When psychologists first defined emotional intelligence in 1990, they summarized it as monitoring and distinguishing one’s own emotions. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and science writer, later publicized the theory with two vital factors included. These were empathy, or social awareness, and social skills.
More recently, Goleman published an HBR article stating that leaders need more than just high concentration on strategy and their emotions. Exceptional leaders focus on relationships and others in general.
These three focus areas of appreciating the wider world, understanding our emotions and relating to other people are explained in more detail:
- Observe with insight – this means being focused on all your senses, not just your mind, while experiencing the world. As a leader, you encourage others to share their thoughts by asking them questions rather than jumping in with answers. That way, you gain deep knowledge of other possibilities to mitigate your biases and enhance your strategic direction.
- Cognitive and emotional management – Western approaches tend to use the mind to try to control our emotions. So, cognitive control means imposing rules that select your thoughts and emotions. Eastern views promote getting experiential with our emotions. This time, mindfulness and meditation use body sensations to anchor us to the present thereby managing our inner world.
- Inclusive mindset – Transactional analysis, founded by psychiatrist Eric Berne in the 1950s, poses a very valid question. What state of mind do leaders focus on? Are they solely following their interests and blindly rescuing everyone? Perhaps their underlying insecurities are causing them to react to events so instilling further anxiety and mistrust in everyone?
Instead, a wise and grounded leader can operate from a viewpoint that benefits both themselves and the wider team. Through openness, emotional awareness and inclusivity, they instill trust and loyalty to go that much further than anyone dreamed.
Areas for Leadership Development
If you Google ‘areas for leadership development’, you’ll get many results on specific skills. These include strategy, communication, managing change, motivating and manager coaching, among many more. Clearly, these are all crucial skills but what’s at the underlying core of them all?
Focus. Without focus, you’ll get eaten alive by distractions and your own thoughts and worries, if you haven’t already. Another way to look at it is that if you can’t manage yourself, how can you hope to lead others? The idea is that leaders focus on values and intrinsic motivations so that they can connect with those of their teams.
As psychologist Eric Berne told us in the 1960s, we all play games in life based on our upbringing and influencers. Look around you and you’re bound to find the ‘poor me’ person who acts out because they want sympathy. What about the ‘clever me’ one who’s probably trying to steal all the glory from everyone?
The good news is that you can let go of your programming and discover authenticity through areas for leadership development. You’ll also gain greater peace of mind and more connectedness.
Not only will you be a stronger leader but you’ll go beyond simply helping yourself. You’ll start benefiting the world in general because you’ll lead others to also improve themselves and those they impact. Don’t underestimate the power of conscious shifts to drive extraordinary outcomes.
Let’s have a look at what focus means when it comes to areas for leadership development:
- Emotional intelligence – leaders who act from a place of calm and wise response rather than from an emotional reactive one are better suited to navigate the chaos of leadership. Nevertheless, the art is in knowing how emotions help us make decisions. After all, they have a major impact on what the brains of leaders focus on and what they remember, as this paper describes.
- Focused attention – we usually say to be mindful or present. Not only does this enable leaders to be more effective but also more authentic and creative. Most importantly, you’ll handle stress more serenely because you’ll be able to let go of thoughts more easily.
- Conscious control – leadership, just like much of life, is learning to accept that we have little control over anything. We do, however, have control over our attitude. For instance, leaders can either choose to serve their own interests. Alternatively, they can incorporate others’ needs and interests alongside their own.
Techniques to Explore for Leadership Development
There are various areas for leadership development to enable an inward and outward focus as well as focusing on others. As mentioned, emotional intelligence is one part of it but so is being mindful. Once you’ve started noticing the habits of your mind, it’s easier to understand those of others. From there, you can connect and motivate for the good of the organization.
Sadly, as people rise up the ranks, they can be blinded by power. Psychologist David Keltner from the University of California, Berkeley, has even shown in his research that powerful people have pseudo-damaged orbitofrontal lobes. This area in the prefrontal cortex just behind the eye sockets is part of the empathy network that stops us from being impulsive and insensitive.
This further explains why researchers are now talking about servant leadership and the affective trust that it engenders. Force and impulsiveness don’t motivate people to action but empathy, humility and connectedness do.
How exactly does this get results? Very simply put, we give our minds space to reduce our reactivity by not focusing solely on ourselves. This then gives us better focus on people and the bigger picture. We essentially avoid the dangers of an emotional hijack and instead, use our emotions wisely.
So, areas for leadership development should include as many as possible, if not all, of the following:
- Steady but firm pace – in this world of constant flux and instant gratification, it takes a brave person to say no to multitasking and yes to breaks. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, many still buy into the mantra of working yourself to the bone. We know that doesn’t work and neuroscience has also shown us that we physically can’t multitask.
- Active listening on Gemba walks – those who know Lean Engineering will be familiar with the term Gemba which means ‘the actual place’ in Japanese.
All leaders should be mindfully walking around the floor of their offices and sites and talking to people on the grund. Be creative and do something similar on zoom if you have to. Regardless, are you actively listening and discarding all judgement and biases when you listen to people?
- Practicing choice – we are subject to a constant stream of consciousness for every minute that we’re awake. One choice we have is to become entangled with it and assume that every statement defines us. The other, wiser choice is to let the thoughts run past like cars on the motorway. We then use our physical senses as an anchor to stay in the present moment.
These techniques might appear simple but as anyone who has tried, it’s easy to get distracted. With time and patience though, you’ll develop the right conditions to create a calm and clear mind ready to face whatever challenges are coming.
How Does This Now Impact your Own Leadership Approach?
Leaders need emotional intelligence if they hope to face the complexities of their roles without burning out. So, make sure that areas for leadership development include focus, both inwards and outwards to other possibilities, as well as towards other people.
By choosing to be present and by actively listening to others’ needs, leaders will better strategize, communicate and motivate. Most importantly, while checking in with their emotions, leaders focus on connectedness and humility more naturally and more effectively.
As Lao Tzu said, “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.”
Anne Duvaux is a neuroscience leadership coach who was previously HR director focusing on Leadership & Development as well as coaching. In a past lifetime she was a chartered engineer and is also multilingual having lived in 9 countries and 13 cities. As an Associate Certified Coach with the ICF and more than 20 years’ experience setting up, partnering and leading teams across Europe and Asia in both corporates and early-stage companies, Anne understands how to navigate the challenges of leadership. Today, she brings a mindfulness angle to provide a balanced approach to life’s hurdles.