The Focused Leader – from Goleman’s article in HBR December 2013

Good leadership is a key component of organisational progression.

In Goleman’s study of leadership he states that “attention is at the basis of the most essential of leadership skills – emotional, organisational and strategic intelligence”. By accurately directing one’s attention to where it is necessary at a given time, a leader will have focus and thus be an asset to his organisation.

Focus is a key ability in a Leader, namely in three core areas:

  1. On oneself
  2. On others
  3. On the outside world


The ability to focus on the self:

Self awareness is essential in a leader.  Whilst listening to your gut is important, it is equally important to acknowledge your full range of emotions, including negative emotions such as anxiety when making an important decision.  A successful leader will be able to focus on his or her full range of emotions and thus make a more educated decision.

Good self control allows people to recover from setbacks and remain calm in a crisis. Those who have the ability to focus on their feelings and eliminate outside distraction should have good leadership potential.


The ability to focus on others:

Those who can focus on others tend to be natural leaders. The ‘empathy triad’ focuses on:

  • Cognitive empathy
  • Emotional empathy
  • Empathic concern


The first is the ability to understand something from another’s point of view, the second is to feel what another feels and the third is an ability to understand what the other person needs from you. The danger with empathic concern is getting the balance right, too much empathic concern can lead to empathic fatigue – when one ‘feels’ another’s pain too deeply and becomes overwhelmed by it.

The ability to build relationships and behave in a socially sensitive way is key in a leader. Those who are socially sensitive are better at building relationships, as they are able to take their cues from those around them and act appropriately. This aids in determining how to navigate within a network and influence the more influential individuals amongst that network.


The ability to focus on the outside world:

Focus on the wider world is also essential in a leader, those who have the ability to see the impact of their actions and decisions on the wider world and also focus on strategy – namely to make the most of your current position, whilst simultaneously looking for new advantages. Leaders also have the ability to see the same information as others but find more advantageous uses for it. This requires the ability to remove oneself from a situation, to allow your mind to ‘switch off’ and come back to the information with a different outlook.


When selecting a leader – the attributes listed above should be taken into careful consideration – this could be done by personality testing and even simply by observing employees in their current roles and interactions with others in the organisation. Leaders can increase self awareness through personality profiling and 360 analysis and can also develop increased focus by engaging in self development through coaching.

Helping in Organisations – from Harvard Business Review January – February 2014

A study conducted on the successful design company IDEO, found that a culture of helpfulness amongst the employees greatly improved the companies creativity.

“In the top performing companies it is a norm that colleagues support one another’s efforts to do the best work possible.” However, helpfulness is not something that always naturally occurs as some people may be too busy to help or more inclined to compete. Additionally, people may be reluctant to accept help for fear of looking incompetent or they may simply be distrustful of the helpers’ motives. Helping is not a rare skill but one which becomes common in the right environment.

Leadership conviction – when leaders become involved in the helping it gives it more weight. In IDEO status does not create a helping barrier. Leaders both ask for and give help – making it an acceptable norm.

Two sides of the helping coin – it’s necessary to get help from others in the company and would at times be irresponsible not to ask for it from those who are more knowledgeable about certain aspects of a project.

Slack in the organisation – perhaps somewhat counterintuitively; IDEO attributes its efficiency to allowing “slack” in the organisation. By not imposing strict schedules on its employees, they are given the opportunity to engage in helping by enabling them to engage with each other’s work in unplanned ways.

The study at IDEO found that trust and accessibility mattered much more to people when asking others for help than competence. Therefore, if someone is available and is trusted by the employee they are more likely to ask that person for help.

Omissions: IDEO managers take note in an interview when people repeatedly use the word “I” rather than “we” it implies that they are not willing to give credit for help received when involved in team projects.

Adam Grant, in his book “Give and Take” mentions a practise used by a company allowing employees to post “love notes” to people who had helped them which was found to be extremely rewarding to the helpers. This sort of reward gives rise to more altruistic helping than a financial reward which may lead to what the writer terms “competitive helping” where perhaps one is only helping to look good in front of superiors.

How to encourage helping in your organisation?

  • Make it clear that helpfulness is more beneficial than competition. Model this by asking for and giving help yourself.
  • Show appreciation for the help given by actually making use of the help.
  • Give feedback – encourage helpers by acknowledging their help and demonstrate appreciation for their time and effort.
  • Work towards high levels of trust amongst employees – trust is key when it comes to both giving and receiving help
  • Avoid blame or punishment when someone looks for help or gives it.
  • Don’t overload the helpers! Ensure that they still have time to do their own work whilst helping others.