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Autopilot Leadership: The Need to Pay Attention

By February 6, 2013January 26th, 2016No Comments

I have long understood the ‘ripple effect’ of each person’s actions — for better or worse, what we do affects those around us and the world in which we live. When I became a manager, I tried to be even more aware of that ripple effect because I quickly learned that the potential impact of my action or inaction had become even greater. In a leadership role, a two minute hallway conversation meant to be a mini-hypothetical exercise could be interpreted as a major change in the direction of a project. So it was even more important for me to be aware of what I was saying and doing.

That may seem obvious but saying that it is important to pay attention and actually paying attention are two very different things! We are so busy that we find ourselves living our lives on autopilot, a kind of continuous partial attention. We have very full schedules and ever-increasing responsibilities, and we are bombarded with information and constant distractions. We move into an autopilot mode just to get through the day.

What is the cost of such partial attention? Does it explain why we increasingly see leaders making choices that they later don’t understand themselves? How often have we heard someone say ‘I don’t know why I did that?’ Or, ‘that’s not who I am.’

We need everyone, including our leaders, to stop the autopilot mode and to begin to train the mind’s capabilities to pay attention. The mind has an innate ability to sustain attention and this ability can be strengthened — we can notice when the mind is pulled away by distractions or thoughts of the future/past, and we can more quickly redirect it to the present moment. When we are in the present moment, we are paying attention, mind, body and heart. And full attention is not only necessary when working with complexities, it is more efficient, and it is much more respectful to ourselves and to those around us.

We all need to pay attention. It is difficult to imagine how we will find solutions when we are unable to begin by simply aiming and sustaining our attention on what is here.

What do you think?