Have you worked for a distracted boss?
Have you worked for a preoccupied boss?
Have you worked for a disengaged boss?
I once worked for this boss.
It was difficult to secure face time with him. And when I did, his attention was short-lived. The way he behaved, I was certain his job must be crazy-busy. I was convinced his role must be filled with never-ending emergencies and ongoing crises given the limited time he had for staff.
Now that I have an opportunity to experience school leadership from his chair, I realize he had me fooled. He had us all fooled.
He treated minor concerns as emergencies.
He treated employees as minor concerns.
As leaders, one of the most valuable gifts we can give 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. We live in a distracted world. More than ever, we have overflowing email inboxes, endless social media alerts, and unanswered text messages competing for our attention.
While most people believe they are strong multitaskers, the truth is only two percent of the population multitasks effectively. Leaders must learn to ignore interruptions and focus on the employee in front of them.
What steps can bosses take to give undivided attention?
First, they must ignore their phone when engaging in conversation. Not only should phones be out of sight, they also should be silenced. Few things are more annoying than having meaningful conversation interrupted by constant phone notifications.
Next, leaders should close laptops when engaging in conversation. Have you worked with leaders who keep their eyes glued to their computers during important meetings? There are simply too many opportunities for distraction when laptops are opened.
When devices are put away, don't think the battle for attention is over. There is another imposing villain capable of stealing a leader’s attention at moment's notice: the voice in one's head.
While leaders may appear to be giving undivided attention, often their mind is elsewhere. Whether they are thinking about an underperforming employee or mulling over what to make for dinner, they struggle to stay focused on what employees are actually saying.
Keeping focused on the speaker can be difficult. However, the first step to better listening is to notice when you are distracted. Being aware of your mind's focus - being mindful - will help filter out thoughts not related to the person speaking.
Finally, remember this: Undivided attention is a leadership superpower.
Savvy leaders make others feel special by encouraging them to share about themselves. By asking questions and showing genuine curiosity, leaders have the ability to make an employee feel like the most important person in the world.
Of all the gifts one can give to another human, few are more precious than time and attention.
Too bad this was something by boss never learned. Easily distracted by phone, laptop, and "emergencies," my boss was the poster child for distracted bosses.
Don’t let this be you.
There is one law of human interaction that rises above all others:
Make other people feel important.