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Harness the Current

Access Continuum’s Leadership Model for leading through novel unknowns

Continuum Consulting Services LLC

How many times have you left a meeting discouraged by the time spent mired in a problem and far from reaching a solution? This is what almost happened with the executive leadership team of a multi-billion-dollar consumer goods company I had the privilege to coach. And then, one of its members remembered her Superpower.

It Started With Looking Back

The meeting began with the President sharing the company’s annual employee survey results. The results were not good. More so, the most coveted category, “Confidence in Leadership,” had dropped 14 points. That hurt, given that the team prided itself on creating an empowered and engaged culture.

As the reality of the results sunk in, old habits took over. The group focused on what caused the drop, and who or what could be blamed. The more the group focused on what they didn’t like about the score, the more defeated and deflated the energy in the room became.

“This is unacceptable,” the President said with frustration. “Without confidence, engagement scores go down, and performance and productivity follow. We must move the needle forward in the next three months before the next pulse survey.”

A Shift Forward

After 30 minutes of watching the energy spiral down, I asked, “Where’s your focus?”

“We’re focused on the drop of our score and what to blame and that’s dragging us down,” offered the female Human Resources leader. “We need to flip our focus toward how to regain confidence so we score 85 or better next time.”

Immediately, the conversation shifted. So did the energy in the room. Team members started brainstorming ideas. Ideas took shape in action plans. Roles and deadlines were assigned. The positive energy in the room was almost palpable, and it paid off.

Within three months, this company’s pulse survey results were in. Its “Confidence in Leadership” score had risen to 87.

The Power of Focus is Not Confined to the Board Room

Last February, I escaped from the Colorado snow to cycle in the Florida Keys with a friend who was preparing for a 500-mile bike ride. We were halfway through our third day’s ride, with 25 more miles to go. I was assessing how to navigate the space between two three-foot metal posts on the trail ahead when I shifted my focus to a poster on my right.

It wasn’t until I was on the ground after colliding with one of the posts that I realized the shift in my focus had caused the accident. My friend proclaimed, “I don’t ever want to see your head hit the pavement like that again!” Some bumps and bruises and a few broken ribs made for an uncomfortable ride home.

It’s In the Data

According to Lindsay Thornton, a senior psychophysiologist at the U.S. Olympic Committee, our bodies move in the direction our eyes are focused, a fact made real when I cycled in the Florida Keys. The highest-performing athletes know this—it’s literally a game-changer.

I first learned about the power of focus when I studied and facilitated Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a collaborative and strengths-based approach to solving problems in teams and organizations.

Pioneered in the 1980s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, two professors at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, AI posits, among other things, that:

  • What you focus on grows, and
  • Where you put your attention, action (and related results) follow.

How to Harness Your Superpower

To harness your Superpower be attentive to what your mind is focused on:

  • For yourself: Eliminate negative self-messages and shift your focus from fear to gratitude to uplift your spirit and generate energy to forge forward.
  • For your team: Have team huddles to:
    • Keep what is most important front and center in meetings
    • During COVID-19 especially, hold daily check-ins to dispel myths
    • Acknowledge team members regularly for the value they bring.
  • For your company: When problems arise, limit the time spent focused on what’s not working and who to blame, and then quickly shift the focus to what is needed, what’s working, and what solutions are possible.
  • For your family: Focus on the 80 percent of what you love about your partner, your “family” however you define them, the furry creatures that make life nurturing, and celebrate that regularly.