The focus of your attention affects everything you do as a leader. Where you choose to place your focus and how you choose to use your time says as much about you as a leader as any other indicator.
A model called the “Five Levels of Focus” gives you a simple but powerful framework for this. Created by Australian author and consultant David Rock, applying the Five Levels of Focus helps leaders choose where to place their energy and attention at any point in time. According to this model, there are five distinct levels: (1) Vision, (2) Planning, (3) Details, (4) Problems, and (5) Drama.
Where do you place most of your focus as a leader? For explanation purposes, let’s start at the bottom and move around the five levels:
5. Drama. How do you know if you’re in the middle of “Drama?” You’ll hear phrases like, “Joe told me that the R&D team is not on track to meet the deadline for the XYZ project!” or “I heard the accounting department has so many issues that everybody there is talking about resigning!” or “Operations and Marketing apparently don’t get along at all, and everyone says that’s what’s slowing down the new product launch.”
4. Problems. Perched just one step above the level of Drama is the level called “Problems” – focusing on what’s going wrong. When people consistently bring up the past or remain in the Problems of the present, the aura around them is negative. They struggle to move toward solutions. You can recognize those individuals at the Problems level because they tend to say things like, “I can’t believe this project is falling behind,” or “None of you are doing this right,” or “Of course, you know who’s going to be blamed for this.”
1. Vision. Shifting back up to the top of the model, the level of Vision is about what is to be accomplished, so this level centers on the promise of the future. It answers the questions, “Where are we headed as an organization/a team? How does what you are talking about right now relate to where we want to be?”
2. Planning. This focal point, situated just one level below Vision, has to do with how a company’s/leader’s Vision will be accomplished, so it is also centered on the promise of the future. If Vision is “what” the future holds, Planning is “how” it will happen. Planning answers the question, “What steps will we take to get to where we want to go?” Focusing on this level gets people rolling up their sleeves and working toward achieving the desired result.
3. Details. When should a leader focus on Details? Only when necessary and only enough to get the information needed. Successful leaders spend their time “soaring” at the Vision and Planning levels, focusing on the “what” and the “how” of achieving the Vision. On occasion, however, a leader may need to “swoop” down and check out the Details to make sure all systems are go. The key is not to stay at that level for long but to soar back up to Vision and Planning as quickly as possible, once the leader has the level of detail needed.
So, as you go about your work day, I encourage you to continually ask this question: “Where am I focusing my energy right now?”