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Action Focus is the One Thing All Successful Leaders Have

If you've achieved success as a leader, entrepreneur, founder or CEO, of a small-medium enterprise you’re already aware of the common factor shared by ALL successful leaders.

Leadership action focus refers to the proactive and strategic actions that leaders take to guide their teams or organizations toward specific goals. It involves setting a clear vision, defining objectives, making decisions, and driving initiatives to achieve desired outcomes. A leader with a strong action focus takes charge, makes tough choices, and drives change within the organization.

If an action focus is so critical to success, why can it be so difficult?

Some reasons that surface from clients in my business practice include distractions, assumptions, fears, abundance of choices, habits, time, and perfectionism. With limited time every day, it's easy to get distracted focusing on the urgent rather than the important or considering too many choices. Our assumptions and fears about the unknown can cloud our focus, holding us back from moving forward. We can become habituated to familiar decisions further limiting other input and perspectives. And finally, a need for perfectionism is often driven by striving for excellence, but it can be self-sabotaging.

Focus is very important, as discussed in the HBR article, The Focused Leader, allowing every leader to cultivate their awareness while strengthening the various forms of focus people utilize.

Self-Awareness is foundational to leadership and something central to clients I work with. We know that different outcomes can not happen without behavior change and behavior change does not happen without a shift in a person's awareness.

In It Takes What It Takes, mindset coach to elite professional athletes author Trevor Moawad emphasizes,

"It's understanding our current level of competence. That's the first step. That understanding, even in the absence of action, can be life changing. And it's not limited to elite athletes. You face challenges that can be overcome by continuous learning about yourself. I do too."

Increasing self-awareness is important to developing an action focus for personal and professional growth. To increase self-awareness, look to various forms of feedback, not just external. Create regular time to reflect, then take one step to do something different. Too often people seek feedback externally only, especially from others yet some of the most important feedback can come from us. On a regular basis, ask yourself two questions:

(1) What am I doing well and how can I do more of that?

(2) What am I doing that is not working the way I hoped and what can I shift or do differently going forward?

Since asking these two questions do not involve others, you eliminate barriers to feedback and begin developing a growth mindset. Other factors like emotions, presence, and empathy can also play an important role in gaining feedback. Pay attention to your emotions rather than simply discounting them in favor of rational or logical thinking. Doing this sounds easy yet is not. Try it for one day. Make a brief note of every emotion you encounter as it happens. Emotions are like signs on a highway, providing valuable information if you pay attention.

What does your leadership decision making process look like?

We tend to think in terms of speed or time, too fast or too slow. Like speeding down the road at 180 mph, we miss important landmarks, signs and other key information.

Think about yourself on a scale from one to ten:

1: I really find it challenging to make successful and fast decisions.

10: I can quickly size up a choice and very quickly make a decision.

Where are you on this scale? Being too fast to action likely omits the valuable perspective of others! Try adding another scale to this decision-making process, how much do you include the perspectives of others?

"Leadership action focus" and "collaboration" are two distinct but interconnected concepts within the realm of management and organizational dynamics.

Leadership Action Focus:

This style of leadership is particularly effective in situations where quick decisions and direct guidance are required to navigate challenges or capitalize on opportunities. However, a leadership style solely focused on action might risk becoming autocratic if not balanced with input from team members.


Collaboration, on the other hand, involves individuals and teams working together to achieve common goals. It's a process that emphasizes sharing ideas, resources, and responsibilities, with the aim of leveraging diverse perspectives and skills to arrive at better solutions. Collaboration encourages open communication, active listening, and the building of strong relationships among team members. It's especially valuable in complex, rapidly changing environments where no single person has all the answers. Collaborative leadership empowers team members, fosters innovation, and often leads to more sustainable and well-rounded decisions.

Balancing Leadership Action Focus and Collaboration:

Effective leadership often involves finding the right balance between action focus and collaboration. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Context Matters: The balance between action focus and collaboration can vary based on the situation. In times of crisis or urgency, a more action-oriented approach might be necessary. In contrast, during periods of strategic planning or creative problem-solving, collaboration could be prioritized.

  2. Inclusive Decision-Making: While leaders often need to make decisive actions, involving team members in the decision-making process whenever possible can lead to better buy-in and higher-quality decisions.

  3. Empowerment: Empowering team members to take initiative and make decisions within their areas of expertise fosters a culture of ownership and accountability.

  4. Communication: Clear communication about goals, expectations, and the rationale behind decisions is crucial for both action focus and collaboration to thrive.

  5. Flexibility: A flexible leadership style that can adapt to different situations will be more successful. Sometimes, leadership requires a strong hand, and other times, it involves stepping back and facilitating collaboration.

  6. Long-Term vs. Short-Term: Action focus might be more prevalent in short-term tactical decisions, while collaboration is often key for long-term strategic planning and complex problem-solving.

Ultimately, the most effective leaders are those who can assess the needs of their organization, team, and specific situations to determine when to emphasize leadership action focus and when to foster collaboration. A balance of both approaches can lead to a dynamic and successful leadership style that drives results while valuing the insights and contributions of all team members.

How to develop more of an action focus:

  • ask for and value the perspectives of others – no individual knows everything

  • time bound choices and decisions - add visible deadlines

  • size up the risk -we can often attribute oversized risk to smaller choices which can hold us back

  • be agile - move forward with a first step, even a small one, then iterate/adjust

  • learn to be ok with a "mistake" which is critical to learning – rarely is execution a linear process

  • develop clear goals, even if they change, to move it out of your head – the process of writing and discussion helps clarify thinking

Jerome Dickey, MA, PCC, CPHR, Q.Med

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