To accomplish anything in life as a leader, you're likely going to need help from other people. Regardless of how talented or accomplished you are, you can’t always assume that you can count on attracting and retaining the attention of others. It will be more and more challenging and rewarding to hold onto the attention of those who matter to you. Attention provides leverage. The more people leaders can attract and motivate to join them on a challenging quest or initiative, the more impact they are likely to achieve. So, what are effective ways to attract and retain the kind of attention that helps leaders to address the challenges they face? Here are four steps that build on each other.
1. Embrace mystery - Frame the more difficult problems that are relevant to you and need to be solved. Help people to understand why these are such significant problems and why so many people have been unsuccessful in trying to solve them. It probably will not attract the people looking for easy answers, but it can attract those who are naturally curious and looking for stimulating challenges.
2. Focus inquiry - Don't try to suggest answers. Frame interesting questions instead. Help people gain perspective by posing questions that intrigue and motivate them to start investigating the mysteries that lie ahead.
3. Excite the imagination - Provide some "what if?" scenarios to illustrate the possibilities that await those who manage to come up with creative answers. Paint the pictures but make it clear these are only pictures. Stimulate people to pursue the questions with a lot of energy and creativity.
4. Be authentic - If you are not genuinely engaged in addressing these problems yourself, you will not be able to sustain the attention and effort of others to come up with creative solutions. On the other hand, if you are on a quest yourself, leading by example, you could have a contagious effect and the encounters you have can help both sides to learn from each other.
Do these techniques actually work? Well, think of how Martin Luther King excited and mobilized a broad group of people to tackle some very challenging social problems. On a completely different level, one leading tech company in Silicon Valley regularly attracts the attention of the venture capital community by sharing its most difficult technology problems and suggesting that they would buy the start-ups that come up with creative solutions to these problems. Or look at the way professional astronomers have mobilized a global network of passionately engaged amateurs to learn more about the vast universe beyond this planet.
This kind of attention is priceless and powerful. All leaders need to find ways to generate it and harness it. This is not just an opportunity, but increasingly an unavoidable obligation. Leaders are all experiencing increasing economic pressure as individuals and institutions. In this kind of environment, leaders not only need leverage, but also need to more rapidly improve their performance.
Leaders get better faster by working with others. To do this, they first need to attract their attention. If they fail to attract that attention, they will not get better faster in an increasingly competitive global economy, and they could be overlooked. That is why attention is becoming more valuable at the same time that it is becoming rare.