David Harding: How being noticed, being heard and commanding attention build leadership

How riveting is your leadership style?

No matter how charismatic or successful you are, you won’t always be able to command the attention of others. Why? From texting to smartphones, it’s increasingly more difficult to rise above the noise and seize the attention of those who matter to you.

And yet, attention = power. As a recent Harvard Business Review post put it, “The more people we can attract and motivate to join us on a challenging quest or initiative, the more impact we are likely to achieve.

Build focused attention

How can you build the kind of focused attention that allows you to lead effectively? Some ideas:

• Lead with interesting questions. Don’t try to suggest answers, focus on inquiry instead. It’s more interesting.

• Stimulate the imagination. Provide “what if?” situations to challenge and empower creative answers.

• Be authentic. Genuinely engage in your business, your staff, the issues you address, and lead by example. It’s contagious.

• Ask “why.” Keep asking “why” until you get to the real issue. You’ll be surprised by what you discover.

We all become better managers and leaders the more we work successfully with others. And that means being noticed, being heard and commanding attention.

Find a dashboard

What should you be looking at each day, week, and month?

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure and what you don’t measure you don’t understand.” – Michael Gerber, “E-Myth Revisited”

According to Douglas Wick, president of Positioning Systems, “Strategic Discipline includes the three practices of meetings, metrics and priorities. Dashboards are a critical impact that shortens reporting time in meetings.  It is also is an important part of building accountability through group meetings and peer pressure.”

Using a dashboard as your metric can be very useful if you use it correctly. Make sure you measure the most important things that make your business successful. I’ve seen plenty of dashboards that were so vast and confusing; they did very little but muck up the waters. They took too much time to understand. The result? They didn’t get read.

Keep your dashboard simple, easy to understand and above all, functional. The sales department will want to show what’s in the pipeline and what’s booked. Compare it to last year’s numbers and this year’s forecast. Simple enough. Profitability for the month is a key measurable indicator. What’s most important to know at a glance is whether you are meeting your monthly expenses.

Once you have a dashboard template in place, make sure you are using it to communicate progress during team meetings. Set department by department goals, or better yet, have each team set those for themselves.

Use your dashboard to inspire, clarify, and promote individual and team accountability.

Keep your mind open, not closed

And how do you communicate those metrics with different groups of people?

According to Dan Goldgeier, author of “View from the Cheap Seats,” “We live in an age-obsessed culture. We frequently categorize folks as “Millennials,” “Generation X,” or “Baby Boomers,” assuming age is their most common trait. We think that younger people tend to be more impressionable … while older folks are more set in their ways. Of course, that’s a generalization, and it doesn’t necessarily hold true.”

I’m a Boomer and work with GenXers, Millennials, and even a few folks from the Greatest Generation. Some in our office are single, others married with kids, some conservative, others liberal, others technology wizards, or open-minded, quiet, or vibrant.

The point is, as Goldgeier says, “For every age group, there’s certainly an income gap, a culture gap, and a political gap. Why paint us all with the same broad brush?”

Like everything else, perception of age and generations is filtered through our personal biases. As we get older, we tend to develop comfortable “default” positions to withdraw to, and that can suppress open-mindedness.

The key to effective communication – with those of any age – is to remain curious, keep learning and empathetically be ever-willing to dive beyond the stereotypes.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected] For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com