Today’s advice: limit the essential elements of your leadership to a vital few. Listen as Ralph and Bill discuss the critical importance of focus, and learn how you can sharpen your focus to optimize your leadership, and ultimately energize your team or organization.



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Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent podcast. This is the space where we discuss leadership, team and organizational topics and better practices. We like to provide concepts and ideas that you can turn into pragmatic experiments to help you develop your higher potential in your work and your leadership. I’m
Bill Berthel.

Ralph Simone: And I’m Ralph Simone.

Bill Berthel: So, Ralph, we’re talking about the topic of focus.

Ralph Simone: I love this topic.

Bill Berthel: You do?

Bill Berthel Simone: Oh, yeah. This is what I call one of my natural gifts, one of my unique strengths, the ability to focus.

Bill Berthel: Well, I’m ready to learn a lot from you because I see it as a, pretty significant gap for myself. So I’m excited about this one.

Ralph Simone: I think the gap exists for all of us, including me. But I want to start with a story because I think this story, coming from a client experience, puts this in perspective. The challenge that we have. I was doing a meeting between a manager and a leader who we are coaching. And they had three goals for the coaching process. One was to improve their ability to hold others accountable.

Bill Berthel: Okay.

Ralph Simone: The second was to get their arms around the 10,000 things that they have to do. Now, I’m sure it was hyperbolic. However, I very quickly pointed out if they saw the relationship between the inability to hold people accountable and, the 10,000 things they have to do.

Bill Berthel: Oh, interesting. Probably a correlation between accountability and the number of things we have to do and the capacity we have to do them in.

Ralph Simone: Yeah. So which things do I focus on? What do I follow up on? What is okay to let go of? And I think organizations are constantly, they have so many things, and this is where focus comes in. And I play around with this. I love to play around with variations of. I think this is a variation of either an Emerson or a Thoreau quote. But focus, focus, focus. Make the essential elements of your life and your leadership number a vital few. We think we have this infinite capacity that we can do more. The more automated things become, the more things we think we can do. And I think it’s causing us to lose that discipline of really focusing on those essential items.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think we’re well intended. Right. We have a lot of interest. We want to get a lot of things done. We see a lot of opportunities. But even with that good intention, we’re overwhelming the capacity of our resources. And so focus is a way to get it back to what you call it, the vital few.

Ralph Simone: The vital few. I like to get Paredo in the mix.

Bill Berthel: Right.

Ralph Simone: Wilfredo Paredo, the Italian economist who studied the unequal distribution of wealth, 20% of our tasks yield 80% of our results, 20% of our customers. And we seem to intellectually know that. I hear people talking about it all the time, and yet we’re trying to do everything. And I remember some of my Covey training. He said, if we see everything as important, we try to do everything. And what do we get? We get overwhelmed.

Bill Berthel: Yeah.

Ralph Simone: burnout. We get mediocre work.

Bill Berthel: Right. Mediocre results.

Ralph Simone: And I think part of thinking big and thinking boldly is taking a stand and really being crystal clear and focusing on what you want. we do visualization, we’ll do vision statements, we’ll do values, but just qualities that you want to focus on to externalize in your life. What are those? Because we know from quantum physics, from the law of intention, that what we focus on tends to manifest.

Bill Berthel: Right? Right.

Ralph Simone: But if we focus on too many things, what manifests is a lot of incomplete things. And, we really need to, I think, take a stronger stand and be clear around what those vital few items are for us in our organizations, on our teams and in our own lives as leaders.

Bill Berthel: How do we do that, Ralph? How do we do that? With the, I sense many of us feel a continued pressure to do more, maybe even do more with less. A desire to achieve a lot. Right. How do we get this into focus?

Ralph Simone: Yeah, I think it starts with choice and taking personal responsibility. That if it’s going to change, you need to change it for yourself. I think that’s one thing. I think it gets at some of the mental energy. When we look at the sources of energy, mental energy is really described as the focus of energy.

Bill Berthel: Right.

Ralph Simone: And it facilitates our ability to concentrate and stay present. But I think this is less is more. I think this requires a, dedication to planning process. I think this involves fertile boundaries, part of our success, planning process, filtering out things that no longer serve you. We can’t be on this additive cycle. One of the challenges I find working with high achievers is that you give them a good idea of something to do. They add it on top of what they already are doing. And I think being able to take some things out so that the number of items you’re focused on is a manageable, vital few. I think people really overstate what they can do in the short term. And they actually end up burning themselves out or getting very frustrated and overwhelmed because of the lack of focus.

Bill Berthel: I love it, taking a cue from the stoics, the idea of a yes list instead of what we focus on saying no to. Because this resonates with me. I don’t love to say no. I feel like I’m letting somebody down. But if we can create the three to five essential criteria for what makes it to our yes list, we get to focus on what we say yes to. Anything else is a no or not yet yes. Which means it’s not for me or it’s not for m my team, right. Where I might be able to find someone else for that. I might be able to delegate it off. I might be able to say, you know what? It’s not for me. But, hey, I’ve got this other person over here who would love that on their yes list. So we can focus on what we say yes to. But the critical or the vital? The essential criteria for that list needs to be a vital few. Three to five.

Ralph Simone: Love that example. Because the vital yes list is focusing on what you want.

Bill Berthel: Exactly.

Ralph Simone: It’s that burning yes deeper inside of you. It requires clarity.

Bill Berthel: Yes.

Ralph Simone: It requires reflection. It requires courageous authenticity.

Bill Berthel: It really does.

Ralph Simone: To say no with a smile. and I think that oftentimes it could be the fear of missing out, to be able to at least create a vision for yourself and to identify some values by which you will create your yes list and really feel good about those choices. I think we’re always at choice point, but I think people feel they’re being chosen for. And I think this ability to focus requires some reflection time. It requires creating that yes list. And then you’ve got to have a process by which to filter things in and out of. But equally important, the courage to say no to things that don’t line up with your list. I think that’s critically important.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely. I think the more I’ll speak for myself, the more I practice this, the more it becomes analogous to auto focus on my camera, right, where I don’t have to grab for the ring and refocus every time. The more I practice this, the more it’s like auto focus, where it’s like, oh, that doesn’t fit in the picture. Oh, that’s still blurry. My essential vital few. I, love you. Called it vital few. Helps me see what’s out of focus more quickly.

Ralph Simone: And I think this ties to some of the other podcasts we’ve done where even our paradigm around what leadership is. Leadership is not about doing everything. Leadership is about getting clarity around a vision. It’s helping people understand those things that matter most. And it’s creating systems and processes that allow us to stay focused on those things. I mean, I love it. Sometimes we’ll get opportunities, and we have the same challenge of staying focused because it’s interesting, and I always love a new client. Oh, this could turn into something big. Yeah. Everything could turn into something big, but it also could turn into a distraction. And so I think it’s having that yes list. I think it’s having that criteria, but it’s having the courage to say no. Having the courage to say no to things that don’t make that list. And sometimes it’s not any more complicated than that.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. The courage to say no. I think not yet. Right. That’s a softer no that we have to look at our capacity as the timing. Right. Of this request or of this opportunity. Maybe it’s right later. Right. But it’s, a no or not yet in that space.
You mentioned something that really interests me, and I’d love it if you could expand on that concern of maybe feeling left out. How does that come into play with this topic of focus?

Ralph Simone: I think we are so inundated with social media, with information, with data, that I think that we have this societal feeling that the fear of missing out. And I think for me, I’ve experimented with this idea of the joy of missing out. So the joy of missing out, is that I get to focus on these things that I self-selected, that are important to me, that are energizing to me, and I take great joy in not pursuing that. And so I think it’s a mindset, I think it’s a paradigm shift, but I’ve replaced, or I’m replacing because I haven’t replaced it, the fear, of missing out with the joy of missing out. And the other thing I think about this is when we can know, not yet, we can delegate, we can put something away for, we can offload it. We can get it done a different way. We can innovate. We can automate.

Bill Berthel: Sure.

Ralph Simone: So it actually, I think the focus actually feeds innovation. Focus gets us to be more creative with how we utilize the resources on our team or in our organization. And I, also think the focus demonstrates to people what’s possible. I think this is something that we need to do more of. I think that organizations are too splintered. I think people are wasting a lot of energy, working on things that are not part of the vital few.

Bill Berthel: Ralph, thanks. I learned a lot today.

Ralph Simone: I had fun.

Bill Berthel: So thank you, Bill, and thanks for listening. You can listen to a new podcast two times every month here at get emergent or wherever you listen to your podcasts. This is where we bring you contemporary leadership topics and ideas, balanced with what we hope you find are better practices you can apply directly to your work and your leadership. Thank you.

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