Focus: A must in today’s dynamic environment

  • Published
  • By Col. Miguel Colón
  • 821st Air Base Group commander
As we catch up on the news, it is evident that the financial crisis is currently center stage. The talk about Congress, budgets and the fiscal cliff preoccupies our nation and the uncertainty surrounding these events can distract us from executing the mission. Similarly, at work centers, we can encounter a myriad of events that distract individuals and teams and draw attention away from accomplishing the task at hand.

These distractions could seem as simple as a member being interrupted while answering a customer's question on the phone, or a team leader feeling overwhelmed by new tasks coming from leadership. Our environment is often impacted by variables outside of our control. As leaders, we sometimes struggle with how to maintain the team's focus during such challenges. It comes down to preparation, and to that end I've witnessed how teams that develop a vision and a plan are able to deal better with adversity. A vision and a plan help maintain focus and set conditions for your team to deal with the unforeseen changes that tend to slow them down and get them off task.

Today's leader, more than ever, needs to develop a vision for the team. A vision helps to focus your team's energy by defining the future goals for your team, as well as your organization. It is not about where you are now but where you want the team to be in the future. For example, a vision can address a problem or state a specific goal that needs to be achieved by the team. The vision may also address something that no one else sees or simply something that no one else wants to tackle, challenging your team in a new direction. Just remember, although a vision appears to bridge the present with the future, it isn't enough to move you from the present to the future. To make that happen you need a plan.

A plan has many benefits to leaders at all levels. First and foremost, it provides a framework for your decision-making. The planning process allows you to address and assess every task assigned to you and to focus your team's efforts on a specific set of task priorities. It effectively reduces crisis management and drives the team's energy towards the important tasks. In addition, plan development helps improve communication and understanding of the objectives within the team. It will also assist each team member deal with the unforeseen distractions that reduce focus. The plan becomes the mechanism to transport the team to that future state you defined in the vision.

That said, at the end of the day, it is not essential that your plan or vision be the best but rather that the team focused their energies in the process of "planning." As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." Additionally, it is important to treat the plan as a living document and keep it relevant. You will need to account for changes in not only the number of tasks, but also to their priority. As your team improves with experience, the timelines associated with task accomplishment will also change. Your corrections to the plan will continue to refine the team's focus.

Although leaders acknowledge that keeping the team focused is a very important objective, not all take a deliberate approach to ensuring that focus is sustained. Many have heard senior leaders state that hope is not a strategy and they are right. Time is of the essence in today's fast-paced digital world. Developing both a vision and a plan will help you and your team become better at tackling tomorrow's more complex issues. In short, it brings your team together and ultimately improves focus. Nothing short of outstanding can come out of such an environment.