Dr. Nick Molinaro, Ed.D., P.C.

As I have explained in this previous post regarding my work as a licensed psychologist with high-level athletes, awareness and focus are critical. Those same mental skills serve the leadership skills of the exceptionally performing business leaders I work with as well. Let’s drill a little deeper into how the performance abilities of both groups align.

From a psychological viewpoint, there are two types of sports – closed and open – and many top athletes must thrive under both systems. A closed sport is one such as golf, where the participant can use internal focus, as they have the opportunity to spend a little more time analyzing before execution with no opponents attempting to distract them. In open sports such as football, the athlete must contend with the actions of another team. Basketball is the example of a sport that’s open most of the time, but closed when a player makes free throws with no one waving hands in their face.

Business executives are, like basketball players, sometimes in an open “sport” and sometimes a closed “sport”. That is why they must constantly be able to shift awareness as needed. Occasionally they have the time and luxury to write a speech or plan a presentation while at other times they’re confronted by the unexpected actions of a competitor – and the clock is always running.

Some executives need to hone their skills at intentional attention shifting in order to stay on top of all possible threats and opportunities. Here’s a simple drill I give my high-performance business executives and athletes to sharpen that skill:

Focus on a specific point on the wall. What do you see? Maybe it’s a painting or a window or simply a crack in the plaster. Fix that vision in your mind, then, without moving your eyes, shift your visual attention to the left. To the right. Up. Down. Until you consciously shifted your attention you were probably unaware that there was anything to see beyond your original target.

It can be tempting to rivet your focus on that one detail that most needs your immediate attention and to ignore everything else. The drill serves as a reminder that there’s always something going on just off your initial point of reference. For example, while a competitor who comes out of nowhere is aggressively challenging your main product line, your IT system is growing obsolete. It makes a great deal of sense that the immediate threat should occupy most of your attention, but that side issue is also very important.

For instance, consider a quarterback with a laser focus on a downfield receiver. He is so intent on delivering the ball and scoring a touchdown that he doesn’t see that the other team’s safety is gaining ground quickly on his guy. That just-out-of-focus threat might be relatively small right now, but it could be huge in the next couple seconds. This concept can also be applied to a golfer who is so consumed with studying the terrain between her ball and the hole that she doesn’t notice that the wind has subtly picked up or changed directions.

As you develop your intentional shifting of awareness skills, you won’t lose sight of your most immediate concerns, but neither will you ignore tomorrow’s potential risk or opportunity that’s just barely in view.

If you’d like to know more about business leadership development, please contact Shawn Baker, President, Cochran, Cochran & Yale, 585-785-5728, Shbaker@ccy.com.