What we Focus on Grows

A client sent me a note in the mail recently. (I love snail mail. Always will.)

In in, she thanked me for helping her organization focus on what was going right, and said that focus left her "jazzed about next steps, hopeful for the future, and proud of the organization." And she quoted these lines from a book she's reading on Appreciative Inquiry:

What we focus on becomes our reality. If we focus on what is wrong or what is missing, we tend to see everything through that filter or frame. If what we focus on is magnified by our attention, we want to be sure we are magnifying something worthy.

A couple years ago, I was consulting to an organization that had an obvious "problem person" on its small staff. He made snide comments during meetings, rolled his eyes, and generally made folks uncomfortable. It was temtping to focus on him to the exlusion of the group. But the Executive Director of that organization, a very wise woman, would often say, "What we focus on grows. Let's move on to talking about our future and the things we all care about." 

I did happen to do some one-on-one coaching with this "problem" staff person, and his behavior and contributions improved dramatically. But I've always appreciated my client's reminder: "What you focus on grows." And what is it we want to grow?

In our personal and professional lives, we want love, kindness, and producitivty to grow. We want good leadership, good followership, and shared vision to grow. We want clear communication, helpfulness, and good planning to grow. We want flexibility, honesty, and wisdom to grow. So how much time are we spending focusing on these things?

In almost every meeting I faciliate, I begin by asking the participants to be reflective and appreciative in some way. Some of the questions and prompts I use:

  • What's the best thing that's happened to you this week?
  • What are you appreciating about your co-workers or team members?
  • What's a personal win you've had lately?
  • When did things go right in this group lately?
  • When have you felt most connected to your mission and purpose?

Sometimes clients share really huge things ("We launched our new program and everything didn't explode!) or sometimes smaller things, like "Kathy helped me transfer a patient to the Recovery Room" or "I pushed myself to try something new." Whatever is shared, it moves us beyond the quicksand of problem-solving and into a place of appreciative, creative thinking.

There will always be problems. And I'm not advocating that we ignore them or pretend that things are going well if they are not. But sometimes the road is long and bumpy--that's why they call it "work!" So we need this disciplined focus of "What is going right? And how can we magnify that?" Find some little way to try that this week and note the difference it makes for you and those around you.