Friday, May 7, 2010

paying attention...or not

Leaders know that they are supposed to pay attention to people. Much of the literature on management and leadership describes ways in which one can pay attention to others - listening, walking around, noticing good work, feedback, compliments, etc...very basic Management 101 kind of stuff. But I had an AHA moment this week when I realized that it was okay NOT to pay attention to some people. I felt a bit guilty telling myself that at first, but quickly realized it was the only way I could be a good steward of the time I have been given in a leadership role. Let's explore some of the reasons why this might be important:
  • there is only so much time in any given day - deciding to whom I will pay attention...or not helps me organize my day and time
  • there is only so much energy I have to give to others - deciding to whom I will give that energy...or not allows me to pour myself into the right people for the growth of the organization
  • there is only so much stress I can withstand in any given period of time - deciding about whom I will worry...or not keeps my stress level manageable at any given time
  • there are only so many resources the organization has in its budget - deciding on whom to spend those resources...or not allows me to plan for the growth of those who will best move the organization forward

Typing those words were not easy for me - I like to be liked and I believe that all people are worthy of being loved and cared for. However, if the leader's role is to steward the organization for the future of its stakeholders, then it becomes necessary to pay attention to those items - and those poeple - on whom the organization will be built.

So who are the people to whom I will choose not to pay attention? Here is a short list that I believe can help leaders make these decisions more quickly:

  • people who just don't get it...after you have tried and tried to help them understand the misison and vision of the organization and what you are trying to do, and no changes are taking place, it's time to stop paying attention
  • people who choose to treat you and others badly...why should I be worried about those who do not know how to play nicely in the sandbox? If their mothers never taught them how to do this, why should I believe I can make a difference?
  • people who believe they know it all...if that is the case, my job of providing an environment in which they can improve and help the organization is over, and its time to stop paying attention
  • people who do not trust me...if I have been a leader of integrity and done what is right for others, and they still cannot trust me, then it is time to stop paying attention to them - they never will trust me (or anyone else for that matter)
  • people who are self-centered...if it is all about them, and not about others - and especially not about the organization in which they work - then it is time for me to stop paying attention to them and focus on those who care about others and the organization
  • people who are more worried about their pay/position than they are about the quality of their work or the mission of the organization...I think that says it all

In a perfect world, most of these types of people should be gone from the organization. Reality is that either a) I have little or no say in whether they stay or go; or b) they fulfill a necessary function for which the organization has no replacement at that time. You will notice that the above list does not mention incompetence. Many people whom I choose not to pay attention to are very competent in the task to which they have been assigned - they just don't get it when it comes to the bigger picture of things. And for the most part, I believe they have chosen to ignore the bigger picture of things.

Two final caveats:

  1. Most of the people I have chosen not to pay attention to are not early in their careers - this is not a case of not knowing how to do something or still in the learning/growth/maturity process. These are people who have had success in their careers, have held multiple leadership positions, have had ample opportunity for training - and still chose to behave in a manner that hurts others and the organization.
  2. As a child, when I would get upset at someone, my mother always told me, "You don't have to like them, but you have to love them." As a child of God, I look at those whom God has put in my life and I do love them - I love them as others who have been called and redeemed by God through Jesus Christ. They are a part of God's people - and I love them because of that. However, I do not like what they do - and therefore choose not to pay attention to them.

The question I ask myself each day now is to whom will I pay attention, giving them the best of my resources so that they - and the organization - will grow...and to whom will I not pay attention?

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