Newsletter #557 – Keeping Focus


HBR - FocusedDaniel Goleman, well-known exponent of emotional intelligence, has produced another book. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence notes how easy it is to get distracted in this age of information overload and assault from technology-triggered attention grabbers. I’ve not seen the book but I did read Goleman’s Harvard Business Review article on the focused leader. He argues that “the primary task of leadership” is the ability to direct and sustain one’s attention. This conclusion extends far beyond leadership. Think of the difficulty of staying focused in the midst of boring work, seemingly endless graduate school programs, long dull sermons, or life with perpetually demanding kids.

As one might expect, the Amazon website has a number of laudatory book reviews but based on the HBR article I resonated most with the reviewer who described the author’s “surprisingly disjointed approach and arguments” in his writing. I admired the book’s sensitivity to brain physiology but this information was worked into the text in a way that made it difficult for me to stay focused on Goleman’s words about focus.

He identifies three broad categories of focus, especially for effective leadership skills: focused attention on yourself, on others, and on the wider world. “The failure to focus inward leaves one rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders one clueless, and a failure to focus outside may cause one to be blind-sided. The good news is that practically every form of focus can be strengthened.”

Focusing on yourself involves self-awareness, being in touch with your feelings, paying attention to what others think of you, developing self-control and self-restraint in the midst of temptations to heed distractions.

Focusing on others involves cognitive empathy (the ability to understand another person’s perspective), emotional empathy (the ability to feel what others feel) and empathic concern (being able to sense what another person needs from you).

Focusing on the world involves awareness beyond our work and sensitivity to new possibilities. This means asking good questions, being a good listener and taking uninterrupted times to reflect and refresh our focus.

How does this enable a leader to keep focus? Maybe this reduces to being aware of yourself and the world around you without controlling others and barking orders. In keeping focus has Goleman presented what matters most? Please comment.


  1. Great Title: ‘Focus: ‘The hidden driver of excellence’ (I’d love a job making up these product names!)
    I know I need to focus to accomplish goals etc. I hope the book goes on to actually giving keys to staying focused. For example ‘Casting down imaginations..’ etc,.
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention’
    Peter j Foster


  2. I like the three categories of focus. When I help my students to write their mission statement I then turn to a personal strategic plan in three categories: Self-care, Other-care and World-care…same idea. Rich Gathro


  3. Dear Gary, I have lost touch with you way back in 2012. You are always
    staying sharp and focused. I am amazed. Please keep me on your mailing list so that I can read your newsletter regularly. My mail address
    has changed to Love and respect.

    Andrew Dongsup Chung


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