Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to Handle Distractions

A story is told involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the chief power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves.

The teams were playing in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his ceaseless chatter, intended to pep up his teammates on the one hand, and distract the Milwaukee batters on the other.

As Aaron came to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, "Henry, you're holding the bat wrong. You're supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark." Aaron didn't say anything, but when the next pitch came he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, "I didn't come up here to read."

One of the disciplines a leader needs in order to be successful is to watch out for those pesky distractions that can derail your plans and keep you from achieving your goals. While many good things compete for your time and attention, be careful not to fall into the trap of buying-in to the tyranny of the urgent. Answering three simple questions will help you stay focused when faced with distractions.

Does the distraction require my involvement? Knowing what necessitates your direct input and what can be handled by a qualified team member can reduce the distractions that come your way. When challenges come to your organization and are handled by qualified, trained team members, they do not have to be distractions for you.

The simple solution is primarily one of communication. When team members are empowered to solve problems, only the most problematic ones should come your way. Be sure the team clearly understands what is expected and what qualifies for your involvement.

Is the distraction a blessing in disguise? An important thing to keep in mind when distractions come is to see if there is a greater purpose in play. What may appear as a distraction at first may actually be an opportunity at second glance.

In 1914, fire destroyed the laboratories of Thomas Edison. While clearly a distraction by anyone’s estimation, he refused to be defeated by the apparent setback. He determined to press on, saying, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

While it is important to be on guard against distractions that come through a lack of communication, don’t miss the blessing-in-disguise that comes from a lack of insight. What may appear as a distraction to one is an opportunity waiting in the wings for another.

Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

How will the distraction fit into the big picture? The big picture is what you have to remain focused on and not lose sight of. The list of things that can distract is endless; unscheduled meetings, an unhappy customer, phone calls, personnel issues, etc. can turn the tables on productivity in a moments notice.

The ability to see beyond the frustration of the moment and see the big picture is your gift to your organization. The distractions you face, annoying as they may be, must be taken in stride. The purpose of this question is to help you evaluate whether you are focused on your vision or your distraction.

The question is not whether you will face distractions, but in how they will be handled. Stephen Covey said, “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.’

How you handle distractions speaks of your communication, your insights, and your focus. The mark of your leadership is in how you answer the questions.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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