Blank Swan events such as the COVID-19 pandemic force leaders to step back and then step up. As the crisis swept the globe, skilled leaders evaluated the situation and recognized the system-based impact of their focus, behaviors, and actions. They were able to adapt to the accelerated transition to working from home, turn anxiety into opportunities, and focus on outcomes rather than obstacles.
There are three levels of leadership intelligence required to succeed when organizations are faced with extreme adversity. They are captured in the Leadership Intelligence Pyramid. At the top is system intelligence, leading with an understanding that our personal and business life is a series of connected elements organized for a common purpose. System intelligence builds on emotional intelligence, which rests on cognitive intelligence. At the core of each component is individual and team focus.
If you are a business leader who understands how your focus, behaviors, and actions have a far greater impact than just your employees, try following these steps:
Create awareness around your individual focus and your team’s focus. The Focus Spectrum (see diagram) is a tool that every leader can use to create awareness and advance their leadership intelligence.
The Focus Spectrum helps us understand where our focus is at any given time. Given that focus precedes behaviors and actions, knowing where your focus is enables you to lead yourself and others with greater purpose and integrity. Focus is like a color spectrum. At one end is the red side, where focus is on obstacles, blame, anxiety, and even analysis. When your focus is on the red side, you—and most of the people around you—are stuck. It takes a strong leader to artfully shift their focus and their team’s focus from the red side to the green side. The green side is where focus is on outcomes, what will make it work, the impact on people, and opportunities. When your focus is on the green side, people take action and move things forward. Use the Focus Spectrum to understand and become aware of your focus. Is your focus holding you and others back or moving everyone forward?
When your focus is on the red side, intentionally shift your focus to the green side. When COVID-19 began to impact the world, I was working with a CEO who looked at the outbreak and began to focus on the problems. He was worried about the raw materials or the supply chain for his product since they were coming out of China. He began to talk about how this was going to hurt his company and him personally. These thoughts led to blaming China initially, then the US government. This focus created significant anxiety and loss of sleep; he began to isolate himself at work and at home.
In our conversations, I referenced the Focus Spectrum and reminded him that his behaviors and actions at this critical time will have a wide-ranging impact on his family, his customers, his employees, and their families. With an awareness of the system impact of his leadership, he had to first shift his individual focus and then his team’s focus in order to pursue and realize his organization’s potential. He then consciously focused on his company’s potential and the positive outcomes that were possible despite the changes being experienced. While COVID-19 was impacting the short-term, it created a chance to achieve new and different outcomes. He moved away from being self-centered to focusing on how he could help others. He turned anxiety into opportunity, enabling him and his team to take action and begin to move things forward.
His ability to pause and become aware of his red side focus and then shift to the green side was a critical step in leading his company and employees through a time of uncertainty. His deliberate focus shift created energy and motivation throughout the organization that was followed by stronger engagement while providing the energy for employees to communicate and connect better in their personal lives. Can a shift in your focus be the catalyst for positive movement in uncertain times?
Make green side focus a foundational cultural element. Several months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I was working with an executive team on blending their company’s culture with strategy and execution. As part of the program, we integrate the Focus Spectrum to ensure the strategy and execution platform is based on a foundation of emotional and system intelligence. As COVID-19 began to impact their company, employees, and the communities they served, there was an interesting response from most of the team. Rather than being swallowed up in anxiety, overwhelmed by obstacles, and focused on what won’t work as a result of the dramatic shift in the market, the leaders stated they were going to approach the pandemic with a collective green side focus. The Focus Spectrum became the tool that brought everyone together and kept them aware of their responsibility to focus on opportunity rather than anxiety. Deep down, they were feeling anxiety, but it was the culture, support, and accountability of their peers that shifted individual and collective focus away from being self-centered to being people centric and ultimately from being stuck to moving forward. What would be the result in your company if green side focus became dominant in your culture?
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a shock, leaders that blend cognitive, emotional, and system intelligence and leverage the Focus Spectrum enhance their ability to stay on course with their intended outcomes. Additionally, effective use of this leadership foundation helps companies adapt to changing environments while building a solid culture that inherently benefits the lives of employees.