It stands to reason that one should give attention to what one has power over, and that one would tend to disable yourself if you gave attention to things that you do not have power over. Strangely, this very obvious and basic insight does not only seem to be lost on many executives, but we deliberately run enterprises in such a way as to focus the leaders attention on anything but what the leader personally has power over. The cause of this rather disquieting state of affairs is the vice which is dressed in the frock of virtue and called “RESULTS FOCUS”. The vice gets enshrined in what managers are held accountable for. It gets seen to be a good, masculine virtue that comes along with an eagle eye for efficiency and a square set to the jaw that says ‘no prisoners taken here’.
Contrary to how it may seem, ‘results focus’ does not make for virile power, but rather the most distressing and emasculating vacillation and weakness. The reason for this is that when the leader gives attention to results he is giving attention to anything but what he has power over. A useful analogy in this regard is a sporting one. In the game of cricket, for example, it is clear that there are two variables at issue, the first is the playing of the game. This, literally, is what the player is doing on the field. The second is what is happening on the scoreboard.
There clearly is a relationship between the two. What the player does on the field has an effect on the scoreboard. However, the scoreboard is the outcome. It is the effect of the contribution that player has made. The result is what the player got at the end of the process. The playing of the game is the player’s process, it is the contribution he makes while playing the game. It is what he gave. Clearly, if the player wanted a better outcome you would expect him to focus on the process, on the game. If he attempted to change the score by doing things on the scoreboard we would be justifiably indignant.
This then gives us the first charge against the vice called results focus. The more you focus on results the less likely you are to achieve them! If you wanted the player to achieve a good score you would focus his attention on his process, on the playing of the game. While there is a usefulness to looking at the scoreboard it is of secondary importance while he is playing. It would be clearly very disabling if you kept yelling at him to focus on the scoreboard while he was playing the game. And yet we do this all the time, and congratulate ourselves because this is the right thing to do. The more we focus the attention of the player on the score the less attention he has for his process, for what he is actually doing, moment by moment, with his hands. This produces an disabled, flustered panic which can only impact negatively on the scoreboard.
Even more distressingly, results focus is at best morally ambivalent and at worst it is downright malevolent. We would generally accept that when a person pursues their immediate self interest that their motivation is purely expedient. That they are morally suspect. They are only here to get. It is precisely this intent in the individual that gets cultivated when we make them results focused. For a results focused individual how they are playing the game is by definition expedient, because the point of the whole thing is purely to produce a result.
We must stop admiring the person who knows what he wants and is willing to do anything to get it. Instead we must admire the person who knows what is right and will never violate what is right to get something that he may want.