Archive for the ‘Purpose & Direction’ Category

Hocus Focus?

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Performance, Purpose & Direction

There is nothing magic about high performance.  The best performers I know have a number of characteristics in common; one of them is the ability to concentrate.  When I say concentrate, I mean paying attention to the right thing at the right time in the right way.

The “right thing” is pretty straightforward.  It is the most important thing that will help someone, or an organization, achieve the most important outcomes or objectives.  The “right time” is similar, when to pay attention is critical when it comes to prioritizing and sequencing.

So that leaves in the “right way.”  Years ago Psychologist Bob Nideffer observed in the performance of athletes that there are different types of concentration or attention styles. As he continued to study the attention styles of athletes, he realized that attention occurred in different forms or channels and that ability to use the right channel at the right time made the difference in high performance. To explain these differences he used two axes, broad/narrow and external/internal, resulting in four combinations:

1. Broad Internal:  conceptual, strategic, analytical

2. Broad External:  awareness of the environment or surroundings

3. Narrow Internal:  problem solving, mental imagery

4. Narrow external: physical execution and follow-through

Each of us tends to prefer one channel over the other even though we use all four at different times.  You probably had a sense of the one or two styles you most prefer as you read through the abbreviated list.

A great example of concentration styles is a safety issue that has gained much attention in the last few years – texting on the cell phone while driving.  The most important channel for driving safely is external awareness.  Because we cannot tune into more than one channel at a time, just like the radio or TV, any other misplaced concentration style can be detrimental, even deadly.  Texting requires narrow focused attention, both internal and external. The person who believes he or she can quickly switch between styles and safely operate a vehicle is gravely mistaken.

There is nothing magic about high performance (I think we can also add safe performance to that statement).  It’s a matter of deciding what’s the most important thing you need to focus on to achieve the results you want and having the ability to use the right concentration style at the right time.

Incite:  When in doubt, ask yourself “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?”

This is not a role model in the typical sense of the word.  That is, it’s not about a person who serves as an example of the values, attitudes, and behaviors associated with an organization.  This is a model that can be used to explain all the various roles within an organization.

Over time, we have realized that a bit of confusion has been created between the concepts of leader and manager. I myself, contributed to this confusion in 2001 when I facilitated a group of thirteen Directors through a process to design a training program for new managers. The final name of the program – Leadership Journey for New Managers!

The following is a simplified model that can be used to understand and differentiate between the responsibilities of any role.

There are three basic components. Each one is performed to a different degree based on the requirements of the job. For example, a self-employed person who has a small business needs to balance all three out of necessity.  The owner, who is too focused on doing the work (technician), may find that managing (operational) and working on the business (strategic) suffer.

In larger organizations, it is easier to differentiate.  The primary responsibility of the individual who does the work is “technician.”  The main responsibility of the person who plans, monitors, and coordinates the work is “manager.” And the responsibility of setting direction with strategic thinking and planning, is the priority of the “leader,” also commonly referred to as Executive .

When you determine the degree of each responsibility for each position, it is easier to determine the training and development needs for both current and future positions.  Remember, every position uses a combination of all three roles to varying degrees.

Role Responsibility Primary Development
Technician Tactical Technical training
Manager Operational Project & people management
Leader Strategic Strategic thinking, planning, and execution

Is the Peter Principle alive and well? This is a tangential topic but one worth discussing here.  Actually I would argue that each person does not rise to their level of incompetency, they are promoted by others to that level – a small but significant difference.  The reason is that most decisions for advancement are backward looking.  The philosophy that a person must do well or exceed in the current position in order to move to higher position is well intentioned but somewhat misguided.

In sports, a great athlete doesn’t necessarily make a great coach. A great coach doesn’t necessarily make a great general manager, and so on.  There are numerous examples of high performing individuals being promoted to the manager level only to falter because what made them great (technician) is no longer as important a skill.  It may even be a derailer.

Missed opportunity? On the flip side, an employee may have a broad conceptual thinking style and excel at strategic thinking.   If they enter the organization in a “technician” role that requires narrow focused attention for tactical execution, chances for success are slim.  In this scenario, both the employee and company lose.

Incite: Are you clear on the responsibilities associated with the various roles within your organization? When considering someone for a position of greater responsibility, let’s change that to a position that requires a different set of skills and even thinking style, do you focus more on past performance or future fit?   The key to successful hiring, placement, and promotion are your selection, development, and advancement systems.

Because I have been thinking and writing recently about the difference between managers and leaders, I thought this data-driven list from Google, in the March 13, 2011 New York Times, would be interesting.

Incite: Have you or others in your company thought enough about how to manage effectively to come up with your own rules?

The following video is an interesting metaphor for working in organizations.  It illustrates the importance of not only having purpose but having a clear sense of direction.

Because the video contains content from Sony Music Entertainment, it must be viewed directly on You Tube. Click the title to open a new window and go there now.

Robert Krulwich: Why Can’t We Walk Straight?


Could the subjects have moved in a straighter line if they were told specifically how to walk, swim, or drive in a straight line?  Probably not, a clear sense of direction is what’s important here, not receiving directions on how to do it.

What other incites do you see in the video?

Incite: Can you clearly describe your company’s purpose and strategic direction?   Your own?  What do you do to make sure your employees are not working in the dark?  Do you provide direction or directions?

Credit: I originally heard the video content in a podcast version posted by Michael Cerreto, Cognitive Retraining Specialist and Sports Psychology Counselor.