Focus! Leadership: Careful what you wish for

Focus! Leadership: Careful what you wish for

The word Focus comes from the Latin, ‘domestic hearth’ – when I stare at the flames of the fire in the hearth, can my full attention be anywhere else in that moment? No. Re- focusing requires a break in the trance and an active, conscious choice to focus elsewhere.

Focus is therefore what you give prominence to at any given moment in time. Its dreamlike state offers insight, ideas, wanderings and mindful time for problem-solving, possibility and creativity. It eventually requires the interruption of the conscious mind to break the trance and remove the focus.

This is relevant to business today for two reasons:

  1. Focus, in its true sense is rarely allowed. Since school, day-dreaming and timeout to just wonder and wander is punished as lazy and unproductive. Work, like schooldays, is a frenetic, task, exercise and output focused environment, where focus is paid to doing things right, high performance and rules. Creativity, music and art of the possible are regarded with less value and just play or leisure. Therefore innovation (although much needed) is less valued, dampened, and at worst, extinguished. Not enough time and and space is given to teams or individuals to find that state of focus where the right-brain can become innovative, transformative and insightful. All change ideas are usually based on left- brain data-driven project management and past focused methods/solutions. Our world needs a different approach – better change.
  2. The unconscious mind (of individuals and collectively through teams) delivers the spoken or unspoken metaphors and intentions of leadership, and not the ‘vision’.

The focus of most organisations (private and public) is their results – whether profits, turnover, revenues, market share, or outcomes, the desire is for year-on-year improvement. Like all compliant organisations, they are likely to have a vision, stated values and a strategic plan. These organisations will also advocate that their people are their most important asset and that the customer is the reason that they are in business. All have positive intention, however, so many times I have listened to leaders frustrated by the lack of delivery and achievement of goals and vision. You could argue that the law of averages suggests that not all visions will be achieved, and that purpose or cause is more important. I agree. However, there is also something else to alert leadership to that may actually be at play.

The Metaphor

A gremlin is at work in many organisations that is much more powerful than any stated vision and that gremlin is the unconscious metaphor of intention. The unconscious mind is a powerhouse of untapped potential and it believes what you tell it. The instruction ‘Don’t think about raspberry jam.’ Immediately tells the brain to do so – you can’t stop yourself thinking about the colour, taste, small, consistency and emotional attachment you have to raspberry jam. The right brain will do what you tell it and metaphor is one of the most powerful ways to instruct the right brain into action. We have discovered through the work of David Grove, that metaphor is what truly drives human behaviour and direction. As humans we talk in three main language patterns: facts – like pencil, car, house; concepts – like family, community and wealth; and metaphor – like fat as a pig, tall as a mountain or lining up ducks. Of the three, metaphor is the most influential as it activates the right brain and evokes conscious and unconscious action. Too many visions and goals use fact or concept-based language which is neither memorable, nor transformative.

Therefore, an indication of the actual outcomes transpires not from the stated vision, goals or values (usually advertised on walls and websites), but from the unconscious desires that are communicated through metaphor. Spoken or implied metaphor provides the real direction of a business and drives culture, mood and behaviours, and it is these intentions that are echoed through the corridors of management.

For example, ‘raising the bar’ or ‘more for less’ are common metaphor in the results focused organisation, and ‘more for less’ has become the trusted favourite. When an organisation has a metaphor that is focused on ‘more for less’, they are not aware of the danger of this phraseology: what is it that they are instructing the organisation to do? They are telling everyone: create less by doing more. The goal or outcome in this metaphor is ‘less’, and the action is ‘more’. Because we bring into reality what is wished for, the behaviours, activities and outcomes create what the metaphor is asking: do more for less… Organisations, through negative or fear based metaphor, are creating self- fulfilling prophecies: more hours of work, more costs, more turnover of staff, more short-termism, more workload, more sickness absence… and the outcome is less innovation, less satisfaction, less customer delight, less success, less profit, less market share. Be careful what you ask for!

In our experience, these organisations have well-worded missions that demand customer service and announce that people are ‘their most important asset’, but the fact is that it is the unconscious power metaphor that really drives the culture, not the words on the website! The reality is that metaphor becomes the driving cause and results in their ‘assets’ serving the God of ‘more for less’ and each year as their targets increase with ‘raised bars’, they work more to achieve less.


  1. Set aside time and space for mindfulness and day-dreaming. Henry Ford actually hired people to do just that as their role. Encourage team ‘campfire’ sessions where you can all focus on a specific challenge or opportunity and use right-brain techniques to solve the problem and come up with innovative solutions.
  2. Explore Better Change by visiting our website and exploring how change can be led differently.
  3. Explore the metaphors in your organisation and look for those that are actually driving behaviour. Run a team session to explore what metaphors you use, will let go of and will begin to use to achieve your goals. Use facilitators who are well- versed in metaphor work to support you.
  4. What metaphor will you choose for your life direction? Spend time thinking about what metaphors you use to yourself, and let go of the ones that are no longer serving your purpose. This can also be done with your coach.

By choosing different metaphors that are cause-based and inspiring, the outcome will be different. For example, moving from ‘good to great’ the goal is greatness and the behaviours, activities, interventions and culture are based in goodness. Through our Living OrganisationTM diagnostic, we focus the torch light on those aspects of a customer’s business that need to be focused on, and by doing so, support the customer to develop their own positive metaphor, resulting in key actions that will bring their goal to them.

Shining focused torchlight on the opportunities for change allows the customer to avert their eyes away from where they have been focused, and highlights a new direction that will achieve the results that they want. It also provides commitment to letting go of ‘what not to do’, and the wisdom of Steve Jobs can become a reality. Focusing on what not to do, supports you to identify the negative metaphors that prevent the vision being achieved.

For more information about Campfire Workshops, Right- Brain Team Workshops and Coaching, please get in touch.

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Lynne Copp

Founder, The Worklife Company. Author of Dancing ’Round the Handbags, Leadership Coach, OD Consultant and Personal Development Expert.