Attention: The Ultimate Leadership Practice.

“It takes intention to pay attention.”

It was day one in my doctoral program, and my first class was on writing! I excitedly entered the classroom and waited for the professor to start. The first words out of his mouth were unexpected: "How many of you noticed the artwork on the walls as you entered the building today?" I looked around find everyone else doing the same. Apparently, no one had.

In response, he marched the entire class back out into the foyer of the building where there were some pretty incredible paintings. He had us pick one and just look at it for 10 minutes, writing down some of what caught our attention. Back in the classroom, he told us something I've never forgotten: If you're going to be a writer, you have to learn to pay attention to the world around you.

A dozen years later, I would expand that statement: If you're going to be an effective leader, you need to learn to pay attention. Pay attention to what? To the state of your soul. The tone of your office. The state of your marriage. The climate in your workgroup. To the meaning behind stats and circumstances. It's easy to experience life on a superficial level; it takes time and intention to pay attention. Here's the skinny on paying attention:

  • Paying attention to the big picture requires us to step off the gerbil wheel long enough to engage our deeper senses. To see what's not obvious, to listen to what's not being said. You don't have to be brilliant; you just have to pay attention.
  • Paying attention helps remind us of what's really important--and that's usually the people around us more than the projects we're working on.
  • Paying attention will always be challenged by the urgencies of the moment, by our anxiety of the future, and by our insecurities around worth and comparison. Paying attention realigns us with our deeper values.

So what does paying attention look like? It looks like daily quiet time. It looks like turning off your cell phone when you're hanging out with your kids. It looks like getting personal with your co-workers and employees. It looks like renewing connection with old friends and attending your uncle's out-of-state funeral. It can look like all sorts of things...because it's an attitude more than a duty.

So I put it to you. What will paying attention look like in your life this week?

Posted on June 24, 2014 .