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by Dr. Nathan Mellor

Evidently, my youngest daughter did not get the memo that her generation is addicted to their phones and has lost the ability to engage in meaningful conversation. In fact, if there was ever a group being recruited to serve as the “phone police,” she would be a strong candidate. When our family goes out to eat together, it is not uncommon for her to reach across, grab everyone’s phones and stack them in the middle of the table. She then announces the consequence for the first person who dares to pick up their phone for a non-emergency. She wants us to pay attention to one another.

The Challenge

Learning to be more attentive, whether at home or at work, is an ongoing challenge for many leaders and it doesn’t appear that things are going to get better anytime soon. Perhaps it is because of the ever-growing number of distractions we now face that there is a greater need to consider the importance of being attentive. Choosing to be attentive, whether it is in our personal or professional lives, is a key component to building and maintaining healthy relationships. The process of creating a culture of attentiveness requires intentionality. I was recently reminded of this at a strategic planning session with a group of executives from a local company.

The Basket

To help promote creativity and reduce distractions, our meeting was held offsite on the top floor of a beautifully designed glass and steel boathouse overlooking the Oklahoma River. As I got off of the elevator and walked into the room, I noticed one item that seemed out of place in this ultra modern and minimalist space. On top of the sleek stone countertop, I noticed a rectangular basket that looked as if it had been stolen from someone’s living room earlier that morning.

I wasn’t sure why the basket was there and, although it stood out, I didn’t think too much about it. I got a cup of coffee and found my seat. As I waited for the meeting to start, I realized the reason why the basket was there. In short, the basket was meant to promote attentiveness. As each executive made their way into the room, they wrapped up their phone calls, finalized their last texts or e-mails, and then placed their phones in the basket. From that point forward, they were asked to focus on the task at hand. As a guest I thought I was immune, but it quickly became apparent that my phone was to be placed in the basket as well. The meeting was too important to allow phones to be a distraction.

Set the Tone

As a leader, you are responsible for setting the tone. Leaders need to contemplate how they can create or strengthen a culture of attentiveness by considering how they can help others focus. We appreciate people who are able to connect with others and have the ability to stay focused on the tasks before them. Creating a culture where this is the norm starts with leaders who are willing to model attentiveness. 

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