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Article Summary 1: The Focused Leader by Daniel Goleman

Patrick Eronini

Northwestern University School of Professional Studies

Foundations of Leadership


Dr. Russell Roberson

January 18, 2015



In his 2013 Harvard Business Review article The Focused Leader, author Daniel

Goleman makes the case that directing attention is the primary action of leadership, and effective

leaders accomplish this by focusing their own attention. According to Goleman (2013), there are

three modes of attention: focusing on yourself, focusing on others, and focusing on the wider

world; the primary elements of emotional intelligence are cultivated by focusing on yourself and

focusing on others. Goleman (2013) posits that leaders must cultivate this triad of awareness,

in abundance and in proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a

failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you

blindsided. The article breaks down the aspects of focus, substantiating its points with an

abundance of research and evidence from the fields of neuroscience and psychology.

Focusing on yourself entails emotional intelligence. Goleman (2013) discusses how

effective leaders are self-aware and must possess self-control. Leaders must possess open

awareness, which is the ability to observe what is happening all around you without being overly

absorbed by any single thing. To be effective, a leader must also be able to place her attention

where she chooses and keep it there in the face of setbacks, distraction, or urge to wander.

Focusing on others is the bedrock of empathy as well as the ability to build social

relationships. Effective leaders exhibit three unique kinds of empathy: cognitive empathy

understanding another individuals view; emotional empathy feeling what another person feels;

and empathic concern sensing what another individual needs. The research suggests that

empathic concern diminishes as individuals rise up into leadership positions (Goleman, 2013).

Leaders focusing on the world are both excellent listeners and excellent questioners.

Their minds are open to diverse ways in which various types of data can impact their primary

interests. Effective leaders are focused leaders who command the various modes of their

attention. They are aware of their inner voice, they exhibit cognitive control, they are aware of

how people view them, they understand what is needed from them, they can filter out mental

noise, and they also enable their minds to explore, free of bias or assumptions. Effective leaders

master their attention, creating a foundation for leadership skills and a link to excellence

(Goleman, 2013).


Effective leaders in any organization must be able to focus their attention. The concepts

presented by Daniel Goleman (2013) in his article, The Focused Leader, can provide

organizations with a terrific grasp of how focus on self, others, and the outside world can

lead to improvements in strategizing, innovating, and managing. Focus and attention can be

learned and enhanced, which means organizations can self-invest by giving these areas

appropriate concentration in their leadership development programs.

A key insight discussed in the article is the loss of empathic concern as individuals rise

through an organization, as evidenced by research. This fact, in and of itself, should resonate

with organizations, but it is also important to note that empathy can be developed and nurtured.

The article suggests that leaders, in order to be effective, must handle personal distress without

sealing themselves from the pain felt by others (Goleman, 2013); they must have a healthy

balance of empathetic concern.


The greatest application to an organization is in helping its leaders improve their signal-

to-noise ratio. Most organizations, if not all, are focused on leveraging their current position or

exploring for new advantages. In this article, Goleman (2013) points that exploitation of a

current position requires concentration, and exploration necessitates awareness to recognize

unexplored avenues. Organizational leaders need to switch between exploiting and exploring to

be effective, but doing so requires sustained focus. In todays business world, most organizations

have access to the same data, the same information, and the same knowledge. Innovation

emerges from awareness, connecting ideas in new ways, and posing intelligent questions. This

process captures what it means to be focused. It is important for organizations to understand the

various modes of focus and to understand that they can be strengthened. If an organization is

willing to place it front and center, its leaders will master their attention and command the

direction of the organization.



Goleman, D. (2013, December). The Focused Leader. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from