A Story About Attention And Leadership

When I was first employed by a large company, they organized a dinner for all the new hires with the organization’s leaders. We were invited to a fancy restaurant, there were about 20 new hires and 4 leaders, sitting among us. Doing a simple calculation you can count that every leader should talk to 5 new hires over the course of the dinner. Yet, although I was sitting just next to one of the leaders (let’s call him John), I haven’t had a chance to exchange more than one sentence with him. John was fully focused on the person sitting on his opposite side, and engaged in a deep conversation that lasted through the entire dinner.

Strange as it sounds, although I could complain about not receiving appropriate attention, I respected John for his focused approach. He could have limited himself to small talk with 5 different people, but he chose to truly listen and talk to just a single person instead. I think that the impact of this conversation was much bigger than the impact he could have exercised talking to every one of us.

How does this story apply to leading online communities? Is it better to divide your attention among the whole group (see my previous post about Twitter), or focus on your prime collaborators and truly interact with them? Let me know your thoughts!

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1 Response to “A Story About Attention And Leadership”


  1. 1 Becky Blanton March 11, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    What you focus on grows. What you neglect, ignore or shun either dies, fades or changes.

    Where you focus your attention depends on what your goals are. If you want to grow an organization, excel in a certain area, encourage certain behaviors – you focus on the leaders. They in turn will focus on the rest of the group, or on those they see as leaders….and in turn it will filter down through the organization.

    If members of your group see that they don’t have to do anything to get the leader’s attention or time, they won’t. Humans respond to reality. If attention is random and uncontrollable – they won’t bother to try to do anything. If attention is dependent on taking action, performing in a given way – they’ll do that if they want the attention. Encourage behavior you want, ignore behavior you don’t. That said, if you’re getting behavior you don’t want – don’t ignore the person if, in the past they’ve delivered the behavior you rewarded. They’ve shown they’re willing to act in desirable ways, so continue to encourage them – don’t punish or ignore them for one error.

    That said, define your goals for the group. Engage and stay engaged, particularly in times of friction and turmoil. That’s all normal.

    As far as “John” in your story. I think it was inappropriate for him to ignore you and the other three people he was to connect with. The dinner was a chance for him to connect with you all. Who’s to say you had less to offer than the other candidate? It reflects poorly on him. There was time after dinner to engage more deeply. The dinner was a team building, connection opportunity. He was selfish to behave as he did and I would be pissed. I hope you were able to engage with other leaders who – by John’s selfishness, were forced to carry more than their share of the load.

    There are times that behavior would be appropriate – but based on what you said here – I don’t think this was one of those times. If I had been John’s boss I would have taken him aside at the salad bar and “suggested” he engage “his team.” Just my opinion, based on what I know of the situation.


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