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The East African : December 16th 2013
50 The EastAfrican BUSINESS DECEMBER 14-20,2013 MANAG E R Opinions of executives who e≠ectively focus on othe≥s ca≥≥y the most weight A primary task of leadership is to direct attention. To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention. When we speak about being focused, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. But a wealth of research in neuroscience shows that we focus in many ways, for different purposes, drawing on different neural pathways. Grouping these modes of at- tention into three broad buckets — focusing on yourself, focusing on others and focusing on the wider world — sheds new light on the practice of many essential leadership skills. Emotional intelligence be- gins with self-awareness. Leaders who heed their inner voices can draw on more resources to make better decisions and connect with their authentic selves. But what does that entail? Hearing your inner voice is a matter of paying careful attention to internal physiological signals. These subtle cues are monitored by the insula, which is tucked behind the frontal lobes of the brain. Attention given to any part of the body amps up the insula’s sensitivity to that part. Tune in to your heartbeat, and the insula activates more neurons in that circuitry. Zeroing in on sensory impres- sions of ourselves in the moment is one major element of selfawareness. But another is critical to leadership: Combining our experiences across time into a coherent view of our authentic selves. To be authentic is to be the same person to others as you are to yourself. In part that entails paying attention to what others think of you, particularly people whose opinions you esteem and who will be candid in their feedback. A variety of focus that is useful here is open awareness, in which we broadly notice what’s going on around us without getting caught up in, or swept away by, any particular thing. In this mode we don’t judge, censor or tune out; we simply perceive. “Cognitive control” is the sci- Research suggests that as people rise through the ranks and gain power, their ability to perceive and maintain personal connections tends to suffer a sort of psychic attrition.” entific term for putting one’s attention where one wants it and keeping it there in the face of temptation to wander. This focus is one aspect of the brain’s executive function, which is located in the prefrontal cortex. A colloquial term for it is “will power.” Cognitive control enables ex- ecutives to pursue a goal despite distractions and setbacks. The same neural circuitry that allows such a single-minded pursuit of goals also manages unruly emotions. Good cognitive control can be seen in people who stay calm in a crisis, tame their own agitation and recover from a debacle or defeat. Executives who can effectively focus on others are easy to recognise. They are the ones who find common ground, whose opinions carry the most weight and with whom other people want to work. They emerge as natural leaders regardless of organisational or social rank. COMMENTARY DANIEL GOLEMAN “When we speak about being focused, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions.” We commonly talk about em- pathy as a single attribute, but there are three distinct kinds: Cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and empathetic concern. Cognitive empathy enables leaders to explain themselves in meaningful ways, a skill that is essential to getting the best performance from their direct reports. Exercising cognitive empathy requires leaders to think about feelings rather than feel them directly. Emotional empathy is important for mentoring employees, managing clients and reading group dynamics. It springs from ancient parts of the brain beneath the cortex — the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the hippocampus and the orbit- ofrontal cortex — that allow us to feel fast without thinking deeply. They tune us in by arousing in our bodies the emotional states of others. Empathic concern, which is closely related to emotional empathy, enables you to sense not just how people feel but what they need from you. It’s what you want in your doctor, your spouse — and your boss. Alarmingly, research sug- gests that as people rise through the ranks and gain power, their ability to perceive and maintain personal connections tends to suffer a sort of psychic attrition. Mapping attention to power in an organisation gives a clear indication of hierarchy: The longer it takes Person A to respond to Person B, the more relative power Person A has. Map response times across an entire organisation, and you’ll get a remarkably accurate chart of social standing. The boss leaves e-mails unanswered for hours; those lower down respond within minutes. Where we see ourselves on the social ladder sets the default for how much attention we pay. This should be a warning to top executives, who need to respond to fast-moving competitive situations by tapping the full range of ideas and talents within an organisation. Without a deliberate shift in attention, their natural inclination may be to ignore smart ideas from the lower ranks. Leaders with a strong outward focus are not only good listeners but also good questioners. They are visionaries who can sense the far-flung consequences of local decisions and imagine how the choices they make today will play out in the future. They are open to the surprising ways in which seemingly unrelated data can inform their central interests. The two main elements of strategy are exploitation of your current advantage and exploration for new ones. Brain scans that were performed on 63 seasoned business decision-makers as they pursued or switched between exploitative and exploratory strategies revealed the specific circuits involved: Not surprisingly, exploitation requires concentration on the job at hand, whereas exploration demands open awareness to recognise new possibilities. In an era when almost every- one has access to the same information, new value arises from putting ideas together in novel ways and asking smart questions that open up untapped potential. Moments before we have a creative insight, the brain shows a third-of-a-second spike in gamma waves, indicating the synchrony of far-flung brain cells. Daniel Goleman, a co-director of the consortium for research on emotional intelligence in organisations at Rutgers University. New York Times Syndicate Video game that can help you ≥emain attentive in conve≥sations 2014 BY DANIEL GOLEMAN Special Correspondent DO YOU have trouble remembering what someone has just told you in conversation? Did you drive to work this morning on autopilot? Do you focus more on your smartphone than on the person you’re having lunch with? Attention is a mental muscle; like any other muscle, it can be strengthened through the right kind of exercise. The fundamental rep for building deliberate attention is simple: When your mind wanders, notice that it has wandered, bring it back to your desired point of focus and keep it there as long as you can. That basic exercise is at the root of virtually every kind of meditation. Meditation builds concentration and calmness and facilitates recovery from the agitation of stress. So does a video game called The year a video game called Tenacity, now in development, will be launched “Tenacity,” now in development by a design group and neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin. Slated for release in 2014, the game offers a leisurely journey through any of half a dozen scenes, from a barren desert to a fantasy staircase spiralling heavenward. At the beginner’s level you tap an iPad screen with one finger every time you exhale; the challenge is to tap two fingers with every fifth breath. As you move to higher levels, you’re presented with more distractions — a helicopter flies into view, a plane does a flip, a flock of birds suddenly scud by. When players are attuned to the rhythm of their breathing, they experience the strengthening of selective attention as a feeling of calm focus, as in meditation. Stanford University is exploring that connection at its Calming Technology Lab, which is developing relaxing devices, such as a belt that detects your breathing rate. Should a chock-full inbox, for instance, trigger what has been called email apnea, an iPhone app can guide you through exercises to calm your breathing and your mind.
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