Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Best-selling author and social-emotional learning pioneer Daniel Goleman thinks it's important to understand that young people can learn to improve their focus, and that this also makes them more ready to learn.

 

This seems a logical next step to add to curriculum in schools everywhere. I think it's important to do this in an age-appropriate way. I've seen second graders in Spanish Harlem lie on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal on their stomach, and watch it rise on the in breath, counting 1, 2, 3..., and same on the out breath. Five minutes of this made the classroom calmer and more focused for the rest of the day. I know teens who have actually gone on retreats, and done this much of the day. The benefits are very real at the brain level, shifting moods toward the positive, enhancing concentration, and speeding recovery from stress arousal.

See the Video Playlist http://www.edutopia.org/daniel-goleman-focus-video

28 April 2015
How Emotional Intelligence Became a Key Leadership Skill
Harvard Business Review

 

It took almost a decade after the term was coined for Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman to establish the importance of emotional intelligence to business leadership. In 1998, in what has become one of HBR’s most enduring articles, “What Makes a Leader,” he states unequivocally:

 

The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

Daniel Goleman
The Focused Leader
Harvard Business Review

 

A primary task of leadership is to direct attention. To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention. When we speak about being focused, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. But a wealth of recent research in neuroscience shows that we focus in many ways, for different purposes, drawing on different neural pathways—some of which work in concert, while others tend to stand in opposition.

Financial Times
Review by Adam Palin, 16 October 2013

 

Mindlessness – when your thoughts are always wandering – is potentially "the single biggest waster of attention in the workplace", he says. Developing its opposite – the increasingly popular trait of mindfulness – by training the brain to pay complete attention to the current moment is crucial. Mindfulness allows us to concentrate on what is important, and not be distracted by the noise around us.

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman, HarperCollins/Bloomsbury, £18.99

 

Please concentrate. Your ability to focus productively is being undermined by the daily bombardment of emails, text messages and audio-visual stimulation. This threat demands our at­tention, Daniel Goleman writes, because focus is the secret of success.

 

A psychologist, former science journalist at The New York Times and author of bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman appears to have the measure of his readers. In Focus, he cleverly emp­loys short chapters littered with case studies to en­gage professionals swimming against a tide of electronic correspondence.

 

Goleman's prem­ise is that our ability to block out the massof digital distractions is diminished by the "cognitive exhaustion" they cause. Without finding ways to be focused, we cannot help but be distracted.

 

Mindlessness – when your thoughts are al­ways wandering – is potentially "the single biggest waster of attention in the workplace", he says. Developing its opposite – the increasingly popular trait of mindfulness – by training the brain to pay complete attention to the current moment is crucial. Mindfulness al­lows us to concentrate on what is important, and not be distracted by the noise around us.

 

Involuntary – or "bottom-up" – neural processes cause the mind to drift and, in particular, to be distracted by visual stimuli. To counter this habit, we need to apply intentional "top-down" focus, which "offers the mind a lever to manage our brain". This battle bet­ween top and bottom processes matters because our capacity to apply full at­ten­tion – "neural lock-in" – is a great mental asset.

 

High achievers, Goleman writes, master three types of focus: inner, other and outer, which he calls "triple-focus". "Inner" focus des­cribes self-awareness; "oth­er" relates to em­pathy; and "outer" focus refers to awareness of our environment.

 

But do not despair if you cannot imagine how to break your compulsion to check emails every few minutes.

 

Focus, Goleman writes, can be developed: "Think of at­tention as a mental muscle that we can strengthen by a workout."

 

To develop greater cognitive control, we can exercise our minds through methods such as "single-pointed concentration", including meditation.

 

"Smart practice", as Goleman calls it, must also include rest and positivity. Thinking positively stimulates openness to new ideas and objectives.

 

For business leaders, the need for mindfulness is particularly acute, the writer says: "Leadership it­self hinges on effectively capturing and directing the collective attention." This involves focusing on developments outside the organisation, as well as at­tracting and directing the attention of people inside and outside the organisation.

 

In illustration, Goleman contrasts the suc­cess of Apple's late chief executive Steve Jobs with the leadership of BlackBerry, its struggling rival. Upon his return to Apple in 1997, Jobs streamlined its strategy to focus on just four products, each designed for specific markets. This, Goleman writes, dep­ended on a vigilant attention to what consumers were looking for to chart Apple's course. By contrast, BlackBerry failed to respond early enough to the iPhone era and its domination of the corporate phone market crumbled.

 

Goleman, however, questions the purpose of achieving true focus without worthy objectives that extend beyond our own personal ends.

 

He concludes by considering how our cognitive bias towards present concerns means we "lack the sufficient bandwidth" to recognise existential threats – specifically the one posed by climate change. After all, in 2009 he followed up Emotional Intelligence with Ecological Intelligence .

 

This lofty epilogue partly betrays the book's own focus. Nevertheless, Goleman has provided a highly readable manifesto for turning our smartphones off once in a while.

 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013.