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January 2014


"The Focused Leader"


by Daniel Goleman (Harvard Business Review, December 2013)


What are the big take-aways?


Daniel Goleman, the researcher who coined the term “emotional intelligence,” asserts in this article that attention – leaders’ ability to direct their own focus and that of others – is an essential leadership task.  He says that the three types of focus are on self, other people, and the wider world.  “Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”


Why do I like it?


As a leadership coach, I work with my clients all the time on developing skills for increasing their self-awareness, which Goleman underscores in this article as a “matter of paying attention to your inner voice.”  I agree with Goleman the inner voice includes self-talk, gut feelings, messages from your body and from your emotions that are constantly feeding you actionable information.  I also liked Goleman’s emphasis on the connection between self-awareness and authenticity, which is – to me – perhaps the most compelling of all the important leadership traits.


In Goleman’s discussion of focusing on others, his “empathy triad” was new to me.  He says the triad consists of cognitive empathy (the ability to understand another’s perspective), emotional empathy (the ability to feel what someone else feels) and empathic concern (the ability to sense what another person needs from you).  All of these promote a leader’s ability to forge positive and effective relationships with stakeholders, and Goleman reports that recent research shows empathy can actually be learned.  I like that.


Finally, comporting with my observation that the most generative leaders are naturally curious and drawn toward experimentation, Goleman points out that leaders who are focused on the wider world are “good questioners.”  He adds, “[t]hey are visionaries who can sense the far-flung consequences of local decisions and imagine how the choices they make today will play out in the future.  They are open to the surprising ways in which seemingly unrelated data can inform their central interests.”


In what situations would this be useful?


“The Focused Leader” is a great summary of the latest implications of emotional intelligence, with an updated and more urgent message for leaders who are easily distracted, pressed for time, barraged by an overwhelming influx of e-mails, stressed out and generally struggling to maintain their best practices of mental and physical wellness.  The message is: pay attention!  In my view, this message is useful for absolutely any leader, no matter how well they may already focus on self, others and the wider world.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


For Goleman’s own deeper analysis of the problem, as well as recommended strategies for cultivating the three types of attention, see his latest book entitled Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (Harper Collins 2013).


Some of my favorite go-to resources – all previously reviewed in the Leadership Library – which would complement Goleman’s current work include Bill George’s True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership; Kevin Cashman’s Leadership from the Inside Out; and a wonderful book by Goleman’s previous collaborators, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, called Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion.


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