“Sad day for my Corvette! The good news is no one was injured—not a scratch, bump, or bruise. The bad news is a distracted driver who was speeding ended up swerving into my lane, hitting my car head on. This should not have happened!”
I posted that message to Facebook at the beginning of June. I’ve been thinking a lot about distractions since then, and how harmful they can be.
On the road that day, I could see the person coming at me, but looking in a completely different direction. I hear from family and friends that they see this all the time, and it’s terrifying to think of the people who are not as lucky as I was.
When I was growing up, safe driving campaigns were all about DUIs (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs). These days, distracted driving is an equally big concern, killing thousands and injuring hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.
People aren’t just distracted behind the wheel; they’re also distracted at work. And as a distracted leader, you can crash your whole business.
Why leaders lose focus
As leaders our job is not to do everything but to do a few things really well. If you’re not paying attention to what needs your attention, you’re not doing your job.
This behavior may stem from:
- not being able to delegate (micromanaging, needing to be in control),
- not having faith in your team members to do their jobs (putting things on your own list that shouldn’t be there), or
- not feeling competent in your leadership abilities (imposter syndrome, e.g., “How did I get this job?”) so staying busy with everyone else’s work.
The lure of social media
Email and social media are other prominent forms of distraction in today’s workplace—whether that’s in the office or working from home.
According to research gathered by one career site, 56% of employees think that social media distracts them from their daily professional duties. It can also have benefits, including professional development, networking, and the chance to take a mental break (we’ll talk more about that in the next post).
I need to pay attention to social media because it’s one of the ways I connect with my community and attract new clients, but just a couple of little check-ins each day is all I need.
Just think of all the options at our fingertips these days, including games and other apps that deliver endless entertainment, insights, information, and connection. And none of that even existed 20 or 30 years ago, at least in that format. The bottom line is that at its core, social media is designed to distract you and keep you there.
People lose their way when they lose their why
Leaders also get distracted when they lose touch with their organization’s big picture strategy. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What’s important about that? What does success look like?
When we lose our why, everything else becomes a distraction. An organization can be really focused and humming along, but if they’re not working at their primary task, they’re distracted.
The myth of work-life balance
A big part of leadership is people management. Team members will bring their (sometimes messy) life issues into the workplace. How can they not? We are who we are, and we bring our whole selves with us wherever we go. Yet those kinds of distractions can affect the whole team.
Effective, compassionate leaders have learned that if we’re given the time, support, and resources to address these needs, we can come back to work more able to focus.
Get to know what your people are dealing with, and find ways to help them. In return, you’ll get their best work. And you can be an example by taking the time you need when things come up in your own life.
Distractions will always be there to tempt us, but by watching for these common culprits, you can find your focus again.