Top Traits of Leadership: Focus


Energy Flows Where the Focus Goes

When you are a CEO or a member of the Executive Team, you are likely the leader of an enterprise that is rather large. As such, you are probably one who has so many people under your command that it’s not possible to have a close one-on-one relationship with everyone. Chances are, you rely on middle management and frontline leaders to facilitate employee relations and carry out the overall mission.

When you’re leading large numbers of people, your primary job is no longer to produce results — it’s to facilitate the success of others. Those mid-level managers and frontline leaders are the people who produce the results that the organization needs to thrive. As a top-tier executive or CEO, you have to let go of being “results” focused, and empower your lower levels of leadership to do their jobs.

So, if your focus is not “results” oriented, then where should your focus be?

As a Top-tier Leader, your focus should be to put in place a framework within which a large number of people can operate in a way that maximizes their skills and energy. The key is to control and shape the three most important areas of sustainable business growth.

  1. The Vision – The company vision and strategy, is where the Executive Team must shape and set direction.
  2. The Structure – is the organizational architecture, and here the Executive Team must design the organization in order to execute the strategy.
  3. The Culture – is the climate and personality of the organization and it is here that the Executive Team must foster an attitude of excellence and pride within the structural framework.

I was once on the Executive Team of an organization charged with the health and safety of over 400 intellectually challenged individuals. There were over 1000 employees charged with providing care for these wonderful people.

One day, a threat of gang-related domestic violence to a female employee came to the attention of the executive in charge of safety and security. Upon investigation, the threat was found to be credible, so the executive devised a very strong and sturdy action plan, put excellent security measures in place, and then approached the Director of the facility to relay the threat, and the plan of action. Understand that time was of the essence and this executive had the freedom to institute a plan on his own.

When the executive approached the Director to relay the information and the plan that had been put in place, the Director immediately made a crucial mistake. He allowed his ego to take over, and then focused his attention toward results, instead of keeping it on the overall mission of the organization. Rather than remembering the importance of “need-to-know” information and trusting the structure in place, the Director called a meeting of not only the Executive Team, but also mid-level and frontline leaders to inform them of the threat. The results were chaotic to say the least.

Within 5 minutes of the conclusion of the meeting, every employee on the facility knew of this threat, and panic ensued. There were people leaving to go home, employees from later shifts refused to report to work, and the amount of calls that the security department received essentially hurt their effectiveness.

In the end, the security team thwarted the threat and everything went back to normal. But it was a lot of extra, unnecessary work and panic because the top leader shifted his focus away from his own areas of responsibility… which were the Vision, Structure, and Culture of the organization.

Let’s examine these 3 areas of responsibility in greater detail…

The Vision – 

For an organization to successfully complete the overall mission, the first step is to decide what route to take. In other words, the organization must clearly articulate its objectives, and make choices about how it will go about achieving them.

This sounds obvious, but as you can see in the example above, the smartest people tend to overlook or underperform at this primary point of leadership. The ones that create the most efficient and effective visions of a business do so by focusing on two elements:

  1. A simple, yet compelling vision and strategy.
  2. The ability to achieve “buy in” of the vision and strategy.

The task of setting a compelling vision and strategy comes down to answering four questions:

  1. What do we want to be?
  2. Who are the stakeholders?
  3. How will we get there?
  4. Why will we succeed?

Once you’ve established the vision and strategy, you must fulfill the second element of building the structure and achieving “buy in” throughout the organization. The key is simplicity. The Executive Team should be able to convey the vision and strategy in 15 minutes or less, and on no more than one to two pages.

The Structure – 

Now that vision and strategy have been established, it’s time to create an organizational framework that enables top-quality execution of that strategy and long-term excellence. This is the formal organizational structure and the division of work among individuals and groups.

In order to build a sound structure, leaders must:

  1. Create an organizational structure that enables flawless execution of strategy.
  2. Ensure each job is filled by the right person.
  3. Create supporting systems and processes that empower high levels of performance.

The Culture – 

For an Executive, a simple way of looking at your organization’s culture is: “Culture is what your people do when no one is looking.” This is key, because as organizations grow in size and complexity, it’s impossible to monitor day-to-day individual performance. So as leaders, you need a mechanism that ensures that people do the right thing every day, even when no one is looking.

In the end, you have to clarify performance expectations, create conditions that empower success, and trust that people will behave in a way that best supports overall strategy. This is where culture becomes the identity of an organization.

So how do you go about creating the culture you want? You do this by following these steps:

  1. Define Behaviors – Articulate a set of behavior guidelines for everyone to follow.
  2. Install Guidelines – The next step is to install the behavior guidelines. Leaders need to take every opportunity to communicate the guidelines and make people understand why they are important. This happens three primary ways.
  • Lead by example
  • Testing, training, and exercise
  • Communicate

3.  Reinforcement The final step toward changing or creating a culture is to reinforce the desired behavior guidelines or values. Ultimately, if you want to make sure people indeed behave according to stated guidelines and live the values, you must answer the “what’s-in-it-for-me” question. This is best achieved through:

  • Performance Management (to include coaching)
  • Compensation, and
  • Promotion

By continuously focusing on the Vision, Structure, and Culture of the company, the Executive Team will build a strong organization that will sustain over the years.

Learn. Lead. Achieve!


Joe Vulgamore is a Life Coach and Leadership Development Specialist – as well as a Personal Development Author and Speaker. He works with people to develop life and leadership skills to sharpen their edge, perform at optimum levels, and achieve excellence. He has 30 years of leadership experience and a proven track record of helping thousands of people from over 14 countries, across 5 continents, to make life-transformations through one-to-one coaching and workshops.

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