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.