Remember the story of Alice in Wonderland?
In one scene, Alice arrives at a fork in a road, where she sees a Cheshire cat sitting in the tree.
“Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” the cat responded.
“I don’t know,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter,” said the cat.
Distraction from No Direction
What’s the lesson for leaders?
If we don’t have a clear direction—or goal—in mind, our companies will become vulnerable to distraction. That’s because we need a strong vision to help guide our decision-making when we arrive at those proverbial forks in the road in our businesses.
Should we change strategy or stay the course? Should we shift resources to this product or that?
If you and your leadership team aren’t all on the same page as to where to take the business, how do you answer questions like these? After all, whatever you decide, as the Cheshire cat said, “it doesn’t matter.”
If this condition persists, the company will get sucked into a vortex of distraction, as leadership lurches from one new “flavor-of-the-month” strategy to another, hoping something will stick.
And employees will lose focus, sidetracked from doing the most important work because they’re continually having to change course.
Over time, the constant distraction will take a heavy toll on leadership effectiveness and employee productivity, undermining the company's ability to compete against more focused and disciplined organizations.
So, how can you keep distraction in check in your company? What can you do to ensure that you and your team are laser-focused and highly effective?
Start with the practice of Attentiveness, the third of the “Great 8” leadership virtues from my book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership."
Virtue #3: Attentiveness vs. Distraction
What exactly does Attentiveness mean? And how can it help you counteract distraction?
Consider this word: “praus” [prah-oos].
Praus has no exact English equivalent. We translate it as Attentiveness, but its meaning is richer than that.
It's a military term from ancient Greece used to describe the resolute focus and discipline of a powerful warhorse, trained to be attentive and obey every command of its rider, no matter how great the confusion of battle.
And praus—with the image of the warhorse—is also a powerful metaphor for how we can become more effective leaders today.
Think of it like this. You're the warhorse, and the "rider" is the overarching vision to which you've committed to taking the company. Your job, therefore, is to align your actions—and those of your team—to the will of that rider (that vision), as you act with fierce Attentiveness and discipline, blocking out any distractions that could take you off course.
(To dig deeper into this concept of Praus, check out Praus: A Parable for Winning the War Within by my long-time friend Hunter Lambeth.)
The Application: Improving Line-of-Sight
So, what does this “praus” level of Attentiveness look like in practice? What are real-world applications that you can incorporate into your company?
At Legacy Advisory Partners, a major cause of distraction we see when consulting with leadership teams is when employees have limited (or zero) line-of-sight to the company’s overarching goals.
"Line-of-sight" refers to an employee's ability to understand precisely what the target is and how they, in their individual roles, can help the company reach that goal.
What often happens is that the owner or chief executive may have clear line-of-sight to the target, but others on the team are left in the dark. As a result, you could have employees who are incredibly talented and qualified for the job, but they're not performing at the level you'd expect.
Why? It goes back to the Cheshire cat’s insight: If you don’t know where you’re headed, any road will do.
After all, if team members don’t know what their role or business unit is working towards, how do they know whether they’re making progress? They don’t have a clear target to help guide their decisions—what they should say “Yes” or “No” to—on a day-to-day basis. So, they get distracted by unproductive tasks, turf wars, and office politics, taking their eye off the ball because they don’t know what that “ball” is.
But when employees have clear line-of-sight to the company’s targets—and know what’s expected of them to help reach that goal—they’re better equipped to block out distractions, make good decisions, and focus their efforts to help the team succeed.
The Key Takeaways
To recap, here are the key takeaways on how you can apply the virtue of Attentiveness in your own leadership style:
1. Set the target.
Where do we want to take the company? What are we trying to achieve? By when?
2. Provide clear line-of-sight.
Are all team members on the same page with this goal? Do they clearly understand what the goal is and where they fit in the company’s ability to reach it?
Keep in mind that line-of-sight doesn’t just apply to the goal itself but also to the key performance measures that reflect how the company and the individual employees are tracking relative to that target. This way, everyone can take ownership of the company’s goal and their role to help achieve it.
3. Resist distraction.
Even when there’s clear line-of-sight to the target, doubt can creep in, causing you or others on the team to think, “Are we moving in the right direction?”
And at times, this type of doubt can be useful to prod us to "sanity check" our decisions. But resist the temptation to get distracted and take your eye off the ball too soon. Remember, it takes patience and tenacity to stick with a strategy and see it through for a sufficient amount of time until you can reasonably determine whether or not it's working.
The Bottom Line
As Winston Churchill put it, “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” So, block out distractions by practicing the virtue of Attentiveness. Build a company culture that takes on the mind (and heart) of praus—the ancient warhorse—where you and your team are laser-focused on the goal, no matter how much confusion there is in the midst of battle in the marketplace. And it’s with this “praus” level of Attentiveness that you and your team will be able to consistently hit your targets.
If you'd like to learn how to expand your influence and impact, then join me on this journey to becoming a Virtue-Based Leader by subscribing below to receive my best content sent to your inbox. Subscribe Here
About the Author: J. David Harper, Jr. serves as CEO and principal of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides total retirement plan advisory services that give clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also the author of the book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership” that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.