The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you prepare for a management role? is written by Arthur Pinheiro Machado, CEO of Americas Trading Group.
As a manager, you not only gain additional decision-making responsibilities, but you also do not own your own time — and, of course, you acquire new challenges. You will need many tools to perform your new function with excellence, but I consider one quality of critical importance for the successful manager: selectivity.
One of the characteristics of the managerial function these days is the overabundance of information. The absolute excess of data and events reaching us every minute demand constant attention. With the advance of technology and the creation of big data, more data, more projects, more products, more social perceptions will have to be considered in creating new products and in decision-making. This is a reality of present-day management.
People normally recommend that new executives keep their focus to avoid distractions. I disagree with this policy. Focus means concentrating on something predetermined, avoiding and even ignoring what is going on around us. Items bordering a predefined field are not perceived sharply enough and may even be excluded from the field of view under analysis. For some decades, executives who cultivated this characteristic were valued by the market and chosen for key positions.
I prefer selectivity. Being selective means being able to differentiate what is relevant and also what is not. Being selective means knowing what to discard. There is a gigantic gap between focus and selectivity. Knowing what really matters, looking for something better in a given universe is absolutely different from concentrating on a specific point, ignoring facts that may influence the field of action.
Let me explain this analysis with the example of someone entering a library or bookshop. It is important to establish what we want beforehand, but we cannot ignore other fields that may generate links or supply knowledge to the theme we are researching. I like to say that a good part of the world’s knowledge is stolen. Everything from Einstein to Shakespeare is going through a process of transformation and we are witnessing the search for inspiration and a reorganization of existing knowledge. Shakespeare, for instance, authored 37 plays, but only one of them shows an original story: all the others are inspired by mythology and other stories. However, this does not downplay his genius, for he created about two thousand new words.
Picasso taught us that creativity is about subtracting. Mario Sergio Cortella, a Brazilian philosopher and academic, says “what matters, today, is knowing what matters.”
That is why I define focus as an obsolete form or characteristic of management. Some managers and executives believe their job is limited to good execution. But without selectivity, we run the risk of adhering to what I jokingly refer to as the spirit of Christopher Columbus: when he departed, he did not know where he was going; when he arrived, he did not know where he was.
Last but not least, your selectivity should be skeptical: avoid the spirit of Henry James’ Colonel Capadose, who used to draw an artistic picture of reality to make it more tolerable. The ability to develop your ontological skills and understand the context of a situation will make all the difference for you.