Daniel Goleman: Leadership and the 3 Directions of Attention

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Focus" by Daniel Goleman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is important for leaders to pay attention to themselves? How does systems awareness help a leader?

According to Daniel Goleman, leadership is one of those major life areas where our deployment of attention is particularly impactful. He discusses three directions of attention—inner, other, and outer—in the context of leadership.

Continue reading to understand where leaders should direct their attention and why.

Daniel Goleman: Leadership & Attention

According to Daniel Goleman, leadership requires attention skills. He contends that we’re all leaders in some capacity, whether we’re parents, teachers, social media influencers, activists, or leaders in our professions.

The author explains how good leaders effectively use all three directions of attention:

Inner Focus: Self-awareness is required to assess your own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn helps you manage your impact on the team, the organization, and society at large. With strong self-awareness, you can stay connected to your intuition to make big organizational decisions.

Focus on the Other: Empathy is required to effectively communicate strategies to the team and listen attentively. Goleman describes how good leaders have the ability to zoom in on one person’s feelings or zoom out to read the room. This helps you understand group dynamics and sense the direction of your team’s energy and attention.

Outer Focus: Without systems awareness, leaders may attempt to solve a problem without understanding the larger picture and therefore misdiagnose the problem. A leader without systems awareness might also focus on short-term solutions for short-term gain, which can be detrimental long term. Goleman argues good leaders understand what to focus on and ignore and can perceive emerging patterns and trends. 

(Shortform note: As you may recall, emotional intelligence is comprised of self-awareness, empathy, social awareness, and managing relationships. In another Goleman book, Primal Leadership, he and his coauthors argue that emotional intelligence is a crucial trait for successful leaders to cultivate. Here, Goleman is essentially making the same case for emotional intelligence’s powerful role in leadership while developing systems awareness as an additional key trait of successful and effective leaders.)

Daniel Goleman: Leadership and the 3 Directions of Attention

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Daniel Goleman's "Focus" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Focus summary:

  • How to understand, strengthen, and use your attention to lead a more fulfilling life
  • The three directions you can aim your attention: inward, toward others, and outward
  • How spending time in nature restores your attention

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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