I just re-learned the power that leaders have when they pay attention. The pattern I saw unfolded thusly:
At the gym I tried out one of those dance aerobics classes. I’ve got a strong ego and no pretense of being good at dance aerobics, so I didn’t care how I looked or if I got all the moves “right” — I was there to get a good workout, and I did. Yet, whenever the instructor came around the room and got near me, I found myself becoming much more conscious of my form, and both my focus and my performance improved.
Then, doing household chores with my daughter, I noticed we both worked harder and longer when we were side-by-side, compared to when we worked separately.
Finally, my friend told me about a fight with his girlfriend that ultimately got resolved when she very candidly said she wanted time with him, during which he would simply “pay attention to [her].” She didn’t want gifts or a fancy date — she wanted him to focus his undivided attention on her.
These pieces clicked together for me yesterday in a pattern that I realize I’ve noticed before. Paying attention is powerful — attention is a lamp so strong that it both illuminates and warms its subject.
As leaders we are the focus of our followers’ attention — and they notice where we do and do not pay attention. Does the boss read these forms he wants us to fill out? If not, then they must not be important — and compliance falls. Does the boss notice if we’re late to meetings? If so, then punctuality must be important — and people become more prompt.
One of the tools that powerful leaders use is to structure their attention, so it’s easy for them to reliably direct the lamp of their attention where it’s most important.