Can I Have Your Attention?

Have you worked for a boss who always seems distracted?

Have you worked for a boss who always looks at his phone or laptop when you are having a meeting?

Have you worked for a boss who always seems in a hurry to finish a conversation?

I once worked for this boss. He never seemed to have time for employees. It was very difficult to get a meeting with him, and when you did his attention was short-lived.

I was never quite sure what my boss had going that kept him so busy. Whatever it was, they must be important issues because he never had time for employees.

Now that I've had chance to see school leadership from his chair, I am realizing I my assumptions were wrong. He didn't have more-important issues he was dealing with.

His issue was he didn't think his employees were important.


We live in a distracted world. More than ever, we have overflowing email inboxes, endless social media notifications, and unanswered text messages competing for our attention.

As leaders, one of the most valuable gifts we can give our employees is the gift of undivided attention. When we show interest and invest time in employees, we create stronger relationships and improve employee engagement.

While giving undivided attention sounds easy, it's not. I’ll be the first to admit that giving my full attention to someone during a conversation is one of my biggest weaknesses (my wife can attest to this statement).

First, I need to get better about ignoring my phone and closing my laptop when engaging in conversation. Having those devices open in front of me results in too much opportunity for distraction.

Once the devices are put away, don't think the battle for my attention is over. There is another imposing villain capable of stealing my attention at moment's notice: the voice in my head.

When I’m supposed to be listening attentively, I often catch my mind wandering. Whether I'm planning my next comment in the ongoing conversation, thinking about an upcoming school board meeting, or mulling over what to make for dinner, my mind struggles to stay focused on what the employee is actually saying.

If you are looking for a book that addresses the issue of attentiveness, I encourage you to check out How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. In his book, Carnegie contends, "Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is important. Nothing else is so flattering as that. Even the most violent critic will soften and be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener."

One of my goals this past year has been to give employees more exclusive attention. One step I took to meet this goal was to implement weekly 1:1 meetings with all 12 of my direct reports.

The agenda for 1:1 meetings is simple: First, employees have a chance to share whatever is on their mind and my job is to listen. Then, with whatever time is left, I get to discuss my items.

While these meetings take a lot of time and energy, I have found setting time aside for employees to share their concerns and frustrations has helped me feel more connected our employees and the department they manage.

If you believe giving your direct reports undivided attention is a weakness area, I encourage you to be intentional about finding ways to show your employees their thoughts, ideas, and concerns matter.

Learn from the mistake of my former boss: Nothing is more important than the employee standing in front of you.

Looking for another great book discussing the importance of giving someone your undivided attention? Consider reading How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.