Saturday, August 22, 2009

Focus: How and Why

Anyone remembering the television program "Kung Fu" starring David Carradine might recall the admonition his Kung Fu Master, Po, gave him to, "Choose wisely, Grasshopper." Now, if you will recall this always came back to the lead character, Kwai Chang Caine, when he found himself in the predicament of the week. His challenge was to be able to see through the circumstances and peripheral factors and find the true central good he must focus his attention upon and act to right whatever the wrong of the day might be.

In like manner we have to sort out all the side issues and distractions as we attempt to make our way along the path to an end result that will add value to our journey. Our primary task is to find the real markers that will align our steps with the value-adding outcome. If we choose unwisely as we move along the path we may slow our progress, or head off in some direction having nothing to do with our chosen goal.

Focus is so very critical for leaders, and followers. When we, as leaders, lose our focus we tend to be uncertain in our direction, and our instructions to our subordinates are also uncertain and usually vague. If we are followers, and realistically everyone is following someone, and we lose focus we tend to become aimless in our execution of the tasks our leadership assigns to us. It kind of matters that we are focused on our mission, to use a quasi-military term. Looking back over the travels of my life I can see there were times I simply was wandering along without focus.

It is always good to have some sort of definition of terms, so we are all speaking the same language, and have a common understanding. So, Webster defines focus as, "a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding." We would say about some matter we are examining that we tried to bring the issues into focus, and if we are struggling we might say something like we appear to have lost our focus.

But how does one get and maintain focus? The primary way is to take the time to plan the mission, outlining what, in simple terms, we have as our goal. In the plan we have to identify what our resources are, the budget we have, and the measures we will use to check our progress toward the goal. We must also determine the critical path. Critical path is the absolute steps we must execute to have a valid and proper outcome.

Another method is to conduct a periodic review of where we are, and whether we are actually on time, and on track. If we are not where we should be, then we must determine where we took our "eye off the ball" and what recovery path we must take to regain focus on our desired outcome. The concept of having our "eyes on the ball" is very appropriate for thinking about focus. If we are wandering in our attention, meaning our eyes are not on the ball, then we are certain to be off track shortly.

Getting back on focus is simple to say, and a bit harder to actually accomplish. We know what is needed, but our minds sometimes simply will not stay put. Clearly, what we need is training in self-discipline. I like to think of it as talking to myself, not in the psychologically troubling way, but in the way one would address the same problem with a subordinate. First, decide what you are doing that is the root cause of the loss of focus. Second, clearly identify what your attention must be upon without allowing discussion. Lastly, decide to get back on focus, and commit to your goal without waffling. Be sure to determine the next checkpoint, and commit yourself to an honest and realistic appraisal at that point.

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