Attention is generosity
Simone Weil the philosopher said ” attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. “
It is also the simplest and easiest form of leadership. Moreover it is the foundation of trust.
Yet it is underestimated, overlooked and discounted as a true leadership skill.
Let’s examine the skill of paying attention, or as Weil said, ‘being generous.’
The word pay originates from the Latin and old French meaning “to appease, pacify, and satisfy.”
And attention means, “giving heed, mental heeding, or active direction of the mind upon some object or topic.”
Thus the skill genuinely refers to giving satisfaction and mental heeding upon some topic with another person. What an exquisite definition of leadership!
How simple is that?
So why do we find it so hard?
Probably because it so simple that we underestimate, as with so many things, how powerful it can be.
Attention is trust
As I mentioned earlier it is the cornerstone of building trust between people in our organisations .
Much of the literature on trust talks about ethics and honesty and major breaches that cause distrust. More commonly however, distrust is caused by many trivial interactions in which lack of attention ( lack of caring, lack of respect) is conveyed in every day conversations between people.
It is the subtle erosion of trust not the dramatic examples that we need to be aware of as leaders.
The conventional wisdom or mantra is that trust takes a long time to establish but minutes to shatter. I don’t agree. Trust can be allocated to different behaviours, not necessarily to the whole person. I trust my partner explicitly, but I don’t trust her to always be on time. I trust a colleague to always be ethical but not trust their management of their temper.
The way I pay attention to ethics and different attention to the temper is a mark of my flexible and effective leadership.
6 Ways for leaders to pay attention
- Think of how you can truly satisfy the other person. Even (and especially) if you are displeased with them. Abraham Lincoln famously remarked, ” I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.”
- Make eye contact and turn your body towards them.
- Observe, observe observe. (This means listening at least twice as much as speaking.)
- Stop being busy. Work hard but avoid the, ‘I’m so busy,’ affliction. Paying attention to what else is going on around you, especially what your team members are doing, is just as important.
- Offer genuine recognition and acknowledgement to your team members every week. Even (and often especially) for just doing their normal job rather than some great achievement.
- Practice, really practice, self awareness. I have said elsewhere, “Self awareness is a moment by moment process, not an accomplishment.”
Be a great leader. Be generous and pay attention.
If you need some help paying attention, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org