Part 2: Power and attention

“A primary task of leadership is to direct attention.”  So says Daniel Goleman in his latest book, Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence.  We’ve talked about the three elements of attention: focusing on yourself, focusing on others, and focusing on the outer world.  That’s what to focus on.  Now let’s look at the depth or intensity of our focus – the how.  This is important, so don’t try to multi-task while you read this.  I’ll be brief.

Apparently, if we hold more power than another person, we are less likely to give them our full attention.  They are less powerful, therefore less important, less valuable, and worth less of our attention.  This is not a conscious act most of the time.  I see this as both good news and bad.  It’s good because we’re not all awful people, thank goodness.  It’s bad because we don’t know we’re doing it.

Goleman cites a number of studies on this phenomenon, observing that, “we focus on the people we value the most.” And sadly, we tend to assign more value to people with more power, and maybe more money, etc.  To be clear, this is not a universal issue, but it happens enough to be studied at length, so it must be somewhat prevalent.

We focus on the people we value the most – Daniel Goleman #quote
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Interestingly, people with equal power, money, and/or status at a lower level tend to be very tuned into others with the same status.  As Goleman notes, “poor people are particularly attentive to other people and their needs.”  They care about each other and help each other.  On the other end of the spectrum, people of means can afford to hire the help they need; they can afford to be less aware of, and less attentive to, the needs of others.   Well, that’s a drag.

When we link this to the workplace, guess what happens?  That’s correct:  higher-ranking people pay less attention to lower-ranking people.  This translates to slower response time to email, shorter and less personalized face-to-face interactions.

So, what to do?  Just pay attention.  Notice whether you’re paying attention in a different way depending on who you’re talking to.  Be present.  Care.  Because, as Goleman reminds us, “the more you care about someone the more attention you pay – and the more attention you pay, the more you care.”

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SkyeTeam is the brainchild of Morag Barrett (nee McLeod). Morag’s experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing high impact teams across Europe, America and Asia. She is a highly effective speaker, trainer and executive coach. Morag draws from a deep and unique operational skill set. Her corporate career started in retail banking with Royal Bank of Scotland Group in the UK. With 15 years experience in the finance industry, Morag understands the challenges of running a business as well as the complexities of leading and managing the people that are part of that business. Prior to launching Skye in 2007, Morag was responsible for global leadership and executive development in a US Telecoms company. Since launching SkyeTeam she has had the opportunity to work with clients in a range of industries including: Healthcare, Telecoms, Mining, Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology.

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