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Throughout the Boston Children’s Museum are “exhibits” that challenge the children (and adults) to first and foremost just notice – the big hula-hoop that produced even bigger bubbles, the mini-roller coaster where golf balls were propelled up, down and around, and the lever system attached to a seat that allowed my 40-pound 3-year-old to lift her own weight. The intention was not for the kids to “figure it out” but to simply notice what was happening. In the noticing are the seeds to learning, new discoveries and a depth of understanding that couldn’t be achieved through teaching alone. At the museum, the questions of how or why the exhibits worked were abandoned in favor of “What’s happening here?” “What do you see?” and “How does it feel?”

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. I’d like to propose that 80% of success is just paying attention. How many times have you been in a situation where if you had just noticed what was happening around you, you could have either averted disaster or been a hero? Here’s an example:

The head of a publishing company had a practice of writing personal notes to his people – he wanted them to see that he was following along with what has happening outside of the executive offices. When one of his employees became the first person to win the Iowa lottery (her winnings were $5,000), he wrote, “Hope you won’t take your money and leave because we need you around here.” Several years later at his retirement ceremony that same employee greeted him in the receiving line with tears in her eyes. She told him, “I’ll never forget that note. It meant so much to me.” What power in just paying attention.

So much of leadership is about paying attention. It’s really as simple as letting go of the why and how, and focusing on what’s actually happening. So what are the traps that keep us from noticing what’s going on around us?

1. Laziness – We can fall into a lull of thinking, “I’m doing enough.” This complacency can happen in a household, a church, or a Fortune 500 company. We stop asking questions like “What am I seeing here?” or “How am I feeling?” or “How are other people feeling?” And then because we’re not looking for them, we stop noticing the clues that are right in front of us.

2. Pressure of the moment – Our culture puts immense pressure on figuring things out and having the answer immediately. Little time is afforded to just sit with something and notice what it is and how it’s working. People don’t notice because they are busy trying to solve problems first. Really we need to re-order that sequence: first notice what’s going on, then seek input, listen to the input, and then apply what we’ve learned to create a solution to the problem.

So as you venture into your leadership territory today, whether as a mom, pastor or CEO, notice what’s happening. Sit with the question of “what” for a while. Not only will you gain new and interesting insights, but your team, family or congregation will appreciate the fact that you’re paying attention.

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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