Sadly, we are at the end of our week of Darth Vader themed blog posts. One thing about Darth Vader, he was always focused on the task at hand. Today, I thought I would end this series with a post about focused leadership for if there was one thing about Darth Vader, he was absolutely focused.
We are introduced to this focus in the first Star Wars movie A New Hope when Vader has tracked Princess Leia across the cosmos (we learn in Rogue One it was literally across the galaxy) in search of the stolen plans of the Death Star which will be analyzed with a defect discovered leading to its destruction. His short tete-a-tete with Leia after he captures her ship demonstrates this focus. I thought about this focus when I read a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article by Daniel Goleman entitled The Focused Leader. It had some great insights for everyone who has their sights on the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) chair or other position of senior leadership.
Most people think that leaders must learn to focus their own attention by “thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions.” However, Goleman believes that focused leadership is actually something quite different and leaders focus in many ways. He breaks it down 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. Focusing inward and focusing constructively on others helps leaders cultivate the primary elements of emotional intelligence. A fuller understanding of how they focus on the wider world can improve their ability to devise strategy, innovate, and manage organizations.” Finally, he believes that every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, “because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”
You should first begin by focusing on yourself as Goleman posits, “Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness—getting in touch with your inner voice. Leaders who heed their inner voices can draw on more resources to make better decisions and connect with their authentic selves.” From there you should move to being self-aware of your inner voices, which is a matter of paying careful attention to internal physiological signals. These can be sensations that something “feels” right or wrong.
The next step is to combine your experiences across time into a coherent view of your authentic selves. Goleman says, “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.”
The next step is self-control, the scientific term for which is “Cognitive control” and Goleman defines it as “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 “willpower.”” It is this willpower or cognitive control which “enables executives 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.”
Although one would probably not think of Darth Vader for the next series of traits, Goleman identifies empathy or focusing on others. Most interestingly, he splits empathy into three tracts: (1) cognitive empathy; (2) emotional empathy and (3) empathic concern.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective. It enables leaders to explain themselves in meaningful ways – a skill essential to getting the best performance from direct reports. Contrary to what you might expect, exercising cognitive empathy requires leaders to think about feelings rather than to feel them directly. Emotional empathy is the ability to feel what someone else feels. It is important for effective mentoring, managing clients, and reading group dynamics. It also allows “us to feel fast without thinking deeply. They tune us in by arousing in our bodies the emotional states of others.” Finally, empathic concern is the ability to sense what another person needs from you. It is closely related to emotional empathy, enables you to sense not just how people feel but what they need from you.
Leaders with a strong outward focus are not only good listeners but also good questioners. While you might not think of Darth Vader in this manner, he excelled in synthesizing a wide variety of data, inputs and information. Such leaders have a vision to not only “sense the far-flung consequences of 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.”
Goleman concludes, “A focused leader is not the person concentrating on the three most important priorities of the year, or the most brilliant systems thinker, or the one most in tune with the corporate culture. Focused leaders can command the full range of their own attention: They are in touch with their inner feelings, they can control their impulses, they are aware of how others see them, they understand what others need from them, they can weed out distractions and also allow their minds to roam widely, free of preconceptions.” That is certainly a description of Darth Vader.
Check out the first onscreen meeting of Darth Vader and Princess Leia on YouTube by clicking here.