The Casualties of Distracted Leading

I recently met a woman who provides training to organizations who have employees who drive for a living, such as delivery folks, salespeople and truck drivers. Her clients incur liability if their employees are involved in a wreck where they were driving distracted – on their cell phone, texting and eating/drinking are all examples. Her reality is that most drivers are distracted at some point in their journey. Poor judgment of an employee behind the wheel of a vehicle with your company name on it can be far-reaching – injury and lost time for an employee and potential victims, insurance costs and negative impact to the company’s reputation, to name a few.

It made me think about how we are often distracted leaders, whether we lead others or are building our own organizations, and the cost to and impact on an organization caused by distracted leaders. No matter the size, all organizations have to manage limited resources, and time and money are universally limited.  

Being a distracted leader has a lot to do with succumbing to the urgent and not committing to what is important. Seth Godin, in a post this week, articulately describes the difference between the important and the urgent.

Just for a minute, imagine you are starting your year with a clear goal to improve your personal systems and processes to help you stay focused in your work and life. You begin the year by organizing and color-coding your Outlook, Google or some other calendar, putting your files in order and buying a new journal to keep track of your reflections and meditations. 

You are now at the end of your first month, and the executive team or HR department has decided that all leaders will go through a leadership program that covers a wide variety of topics. You decide you need to learn more about how to improve your presentation skills. You attend a networking luncheon and realize that you need to improve your elevator speech and ought to begin writing a blog or a book. You probably know where I’m going with this.

Now at the end of your second month, you’ve abandoned your systems and processes, started and stopped your blog, and realized that studying presentation skills won’t help you accomplish the large projects that have just landed on your plate. Further, you are losing the respect of your teammates, who look to you to set a consistent pace and lead them to goal achievement.

If you recognize yourself in these symptoms, here are a few tips to help you refocus and recommit to the things that are important:

  • Create a statement for yourself that clearly commits you to a goal or objective that gets you out of bed each day. Put it on your bathroom mirror, in your calendar and other places where you can remind yourself of what your “important” is.
  • Take the time to refocus throughout your day, asking yourself the question, “Is this the highest and best use of my time right now? If this is someone else’s urgent item, can I negotiate with them?”
  • Remember that your thoughts define your actions.  Take time for a break several times throughout the day to reframe your thinking and refocus your attention.
  • Ask for feedback, and recalibrate based on how others are experiencing your actions.
  • Reward yourself for staying the course, even if it’s simply taking stock at the end of the day to acknowledge where you were focused, and note where you may still have some work to do to retain your focus tomorrow.

A focused leader who reflects and course corrects will accomplish more in a year than someone distracted by shiny objects. There is an art and a discipline to remaining focused, and supporting yourself with a daily reminder to use limited resources like time and money wisely is a healthy and supportive way to begin your day.