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Attention management is awareness intelligence

Awareness intelligence is a valuable skill for leaders in a VUCA world, and it requires a focus on attention management. Learn more.

5 min read


Awareness intelligence

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This post is by Dorothy Siminovitch in partnership with Weaving Influence, a full-service digital marketing agency. Since launching 10 years ago, Weaving Influence has helped clients launch more than 150 books, carving its niche in working with authors, thought leaders, coaches, consultants, trainers, nonprofit leaders and speakers to market their services and books.

Fifty-one years ago, noted economist Herbert Simon observed that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” That is, too much information tends to scatter our attention and diminish our ability to focus on what matters.

Today, of course, access to information has grown exponentially. In response, business scholars now recognize “attention management” as a critical competence — “the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.” What helps us choose those right reasons, places and moments involves a set of process skills that together can be called “awareness intelligence.”

The effects of an explosion of information, market volatility, rapid change and increased uncertainty require a capacity to use one’s awareness with intention. Attention and awareness are related: If I become aware of something, I pay attention to it; if my attention is caught by something interesting or needed, I become aware of it.

What does it mean to be “aware”? At its simplest, it means consciously acknowledging “what’s happening,” in the moment, internally and/or externally. The act of awareness itself ignites the possibility for action.

Awareness intelligence in leadership can lead to greater creativity, resilience and workplace satisfaction in direct proportion to leaders’ ability to manage volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Awareness intelligence is a disciplined skill set influenced by Gestalt Coaching principles, which aims to keep leaders centered and present. These process skills answer the need for attention management.

We can invite our business leaders to consider the following:

Attention and awareness are both more available when we work “in the moment”

Inviting leaders to become aware of what they are noticing, both inside themselves and externally, is the essence of the awareness process. Self-awareness acts as a sensitivity bridge for recognizing to what and how others are reacting.

Leaders who learn to ask “What is happening?” in the moment begin to pay attention to a wider array of relevant data. They learn to use their awareness scanning as a kind of GPS for navigating complexity and uncertainty.

Awareness intelligence prioritizes paying attention to what needs a response

The amount of data we become aware of can become chaotic. Learning to assess and assign value to what needs attention supports leaders to feel energized and aligned, and enables them to move forward with their projects.

Reflecting on what they most value, and practicing with ways to prioritize those values, offers leaders choices that have relevance, integrity and vitality.

A willingness to act on one’s awareness choices furthers learning and change

Daniel Pink tells us that not taking action often leads to regret. It matters that leaders take action on what they have assessed through attention and awareness. The avoidance of action is often linked to fear of failure.

But taking any action is always a form of creative experiment. Doing so with a mindset that embraces learning from small failures will both minimize and normalize failure as a leadership learning tool that requires creative action toward what is new and needs exploration.

Reflective inquiry strengthens both attention and awareness

Reflective inquiry is the process of inserting periods for reflection that help transform an awareness into attentive learning. Such inquiry prompts leaders to gauge the success of important moments of interaction, as well as how their awareness did or did not translate successfully into paying attention to the most pressing issues.

During reflection, leaders realize how they have chosen correctly or how they might have chosen differently. Reflection as a learning process enables assimilation of new learning that supports both leaders and followers. Compelling leaders understand the power of scanning for a range of data. They have the awareness intelligence that guides their decisions about how to act on that data.

Leaders achieve successful outcomes when they are aware, present and centered, allowing them to link emergent data with strategic initiatives. Paying attention to what is present enables leaders to act with relevance to what is happening in the present moment.

Awareness intelligence offers a set of skills, tested by 60 years of thinking and practice. Leadership theory and practice can be strengthened by these processes.

Dorothy E. Siminovitch, PhD, MCC, is an international coach, consultant, speaker and author. She is the founder and president of Gestalt Coaching Works LLC, and the founder and co-owner of the Gestalt Coaching Program in Istanbul, an ICF-ACTP coach training program. She is co-founder of the Gestalt Center for Coaching, which delivers ICF-accredited coach training workshops and extended programs internationally. She is the author of “A Gestalt Coaching Primer: The Path Toward Awareness IQ.” The second edition of the book is coming in spring 2022. 

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