Leadership tips: How to stay focused and craft a happier worldview

Leadership often feels like an all-you-can-eat buffet of distraction and negativity. Here are two tools to be more focused and positive.

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Image: Silatip/Shutterstock

If there's one sentiment that seems to be shared by leaders of all stripes these days, it's a nagging, persistent sense of a feeling somewhere between general unease or low-grade frustration, to barely managed panic. This is not surprising. We're living in a world that's far from certain, and each day seems to bring some new item to add to our list of things to worry about. These worries might include everything from concern about geopolitics and health issues, to persistent cybersecurity threats, to wondering which of your key staff has one foot out the door. For many of us, this deluge of concerns creates a constant, harmful background noise that can not only distract and make us less effective leaders, but ultimately make us less happy, healthy and positive humans.

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Framing—consciously setting your worldview

Framing is a wonderfully simple and intuitive concept that can be grasped in moments, yet takes a lifetime of practice to approach mastery. In short, it's how you see the world. We've all met people who view the world through a certain lens, and too often, it's a framing that's been unconsciously set by circumstance rather than one that its holder has thoughtfully and actively cultivated.

For example, if you know someone in law enforcement, they probably have a very different way of seeing the world and its inhabitants than someone who works in the fashion industry. As technology leaders, we might naturally frame the world in terms of how technology could solve the various challenges we encounter. If you allow your framing to be set unconsciously, it usually amplifies what you encounter in your day-to-day routines. With a 24/7 barrage of worries from climate change to cybercrime, too many of us default to framing our world as an unending parade of doom and misery with a rare flash of joy.

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If you don't believe that something as simple as your framing of the world can have such a dramatic impact, consider the top two or three most positive and joyful people you know, as well as two or three on the opposite side of that spectrum. It's unlikely there's a dramatic difference in material circumstance, physical condition or some magic potion that the positive people have discovered and quaff on a daily basis. Rather, you probably notice that the positive people always find the silver lining, while the negative ones have a glass that's constantly half empty, and they're not even thirsty and they're angry someone gave them a glass in the first place. These old bromides are simplified ways to express how someone frames their world.

The magic of framing is that by being aware of its existence, you can actively manage it. You can choose to absorb every bit of negative news or allow that disfavored politician to steer how you frame the world, or you can ignore these distractions and choose to focus on the positive aspects of your world and the events that you can directly impact.

In my career, I've had months of stewing in frustration at some aspect of my work, ranging from the burdens of travel to a perceived lack of advancement. Shifting my focus to what I enjoyed and relished about the job or focusing on actively changing my circumstances dramatically impacted my mood and perception of my work and made me a better spouse, father and friend. This can be more difficult than it sounds, but thankfully there are tools to help.

Journaling—a tool to shift your framing

One of the best tools I've found is keeping a daily journal. You don't have to travel far to hear the virtues of journaling extolled, and most of history's great people kept regular journals. Like many things, I ignored this advice for too long, perhaps due to a misguided notion that a journal was something akin to the "Dear Diary" trope of the movies and novels of my childhood, with pre-teen girls documenting every nuance of their lives only to have someone steal these deep secrets.

What helped me was having a simplified structure, and being a technology-oriented person, using my phone and tablet as the repository since they were always at hand. There are plenty of simple, structured journaling templates and tools, but I've found a variation of the 5-Minute Journal to be quite helpful. Each morning, I focus on writing three things for which I am grateful, and three things that would make that day great, an exercise that takes all of five minutes from when I get the urge, to when I hit Done in my journaling app.

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This simple act, which has quickly become as essential and delightful to my mornings as a cup of coffee, has gradually shifted my framing of the world to one centered on gratitude and an anticipation and sense of control over what the day brings. It also forces me to think of how I'll make that particular day great, and I'll enter items ranging from making progress on a specific element of a complex project at work to spending a few minutes chatting with my spouse or children.

There are dozens of weighty management books and elaborate courses and training programs on leadership, but some consideration and a few minutes each day spent actively managing your framing can work wonders on our lives as leaders and human beings.

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By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...