I’m standing on the Bosu Balance Trainer®. If you’re unfamiliar with this instrument of gymnastic torture, it’s like a basketball that’s been cut in half. You perch on it and attempt to balance. And when you have achieved that skill, you increase the difficulty by lifting weights, still while balancing. What I find remarkable is that I am actually able to accomplish this—as long as I concentrate…really concentrate.
So here I am, balanced on the ball, relaxed yet focused, thinking of nothing but the task of slowly, steadily lifting the barbells I’m holding in each hand. Then, from deep within the recesses of my mind, an extraneous thought leaps forth or someone walks in front of me and says: “Hi.”
And with that “brilliant” insight, I’m falling off the Bosu®! What I say then is unmemorable and unprintable. My trainer has seen it all before. “You were in perfect balance,” he explains. “And then you lost your focus. You can’t do that.”
I’m furious at myself, but no more so than at any other time when I’ve let my concentration slip and lost sight of my “do it now” objective.
What a great metaphor for the need to focus in business!
The value of focus
As leaders, we are concerned with purpose—only an egotist would lead just for the sake of leading. We lead, because in collective human endeavors, someone always must lead. Over the years, we have assumed leadership roles and we have learned that we can succeed. We’ve come to value the importance of tenacity, persistence, and, yes, focus.
So why do some potential leaders, like some athletes, start off on a trajectory toward greatness, then suddenly veer off course? Why do some executives charge up the ladder into the C-suites only to find they can no longer hit the mark?
I’m guessing they become overwhelmed by the myriad of distractions that are constantly competing for our attention: “Why hasn’t he replied to my e-mail?” “Am I ready for this afternoon’s conference call?” “What’s the market doing?” All of these concerns may be important, but all too often, they come to mind when they’re completely irrelevant to the task at hand.
Of course, our lives are vastly more complex than a few moments spent on a Bosu Balance Trainer®. But when we’re working, isn’t it essential to focus on what really matters at the time—to close the door, shut out distractions, and willfully concentrate? Let the voicemails, emails, and texts go unheard and unanswered. People will always get back to you if it’s important.
Staying on track
Some of our greatest leaders were noted for their persistence. The late Steve Jobs spent four years making Toy Story, the film that established Pixar and created a new genre of animation. According to one associate, Jobs’s success was due not only to his vision, but because he relentlessly drove the project with “stubbornness, tenacity, belief and patience to stay the course.” (The New York Times, October 6, 2011)
Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, describes two approaches to focus: “Proactive” people focus on areas they can influence or control. Suppose the situation calls for a business plan. Proactive people sit down, tune everything else out, and simply write the plan. In contrast, “reactive” people will obsess on areas over which they have no power. They’ll wonder who will evaluate their plan and what they might think. They’ll wish their company had more resources. They’ll blame the economy.
Although Covey has a point, I think he’s making the ability to focus sound easier than it is. Learning to shut out the world and concentrate totally on the job is anything but easy. It’s hard. But with practice, we can get better. And with more practice, we can improve even more.
Will Bosu® training help bring focus to your professional life? Frankly, I have no idea. I can see that with deliberate practice, my physical balance has improved. And I like to think that over the years I’ve become more skilled at shutting out distractions and concentrating on the task at hand.
One thing I am sure of: the achievements in which I take the most pride are those to which I’ve given my undivided attention. I also know that when I slip, all I have to do is get back on the ball.