Human beings are wired to need attention. If they are not getting attention, they consciously or subconsciously alter their behavior until they do. Thus, as a manager, if you pay the most attention to your strugglers and ignore your stars, you can inadvertently alter the behavior of your stars. When you see your stars acting up, it is a sure sign that you have been paying attention to the wrong people and the wrong behaviors.

As the line from this week’s book will suggest, attention is the greatest asset a manager has. It is a currency that, when invested correctly, grows a lot of value. We struggle to invest it effectively.

This is because of the sudden amnesia that takes over when people become managers. They immediately forget what it was like to be a non-manager. It feels like some kind of hypocrisy. Want someone to care about what time you come into the office? Give them the title “manager” and they’ll care about it a great deal. Way more than they should. Meanwhile, the operation suffers.

It’s a waste of attention.

And it gets worse. Because as the insight from this week’s book suggests, attention is a magnet that draws everyone in. In education, the class clown is the big challenge every teacher faces. The class clown wants attention. But so does everyone else. Give the attention to the clown and the rest of your students start to act up, too. Because that’s the game you’re playing. That’s where the currency is stashed.

What does a great manager pay attention to? Sure, as the book suggests, great managers pay attention to their stars. No question about it. They play favorites. But the favoritism can’t be based on the people. To be fair, it must be placed on the behavior.

This is where some nuance is desperately needed within the wisdom of this book. Great managers don’t simply invest in their superstars and leave the rest to “sink or swim.” That’s malpractice. Coffee ain’t for closers. Coffee is for closings.

In other words, the book is right: be mindful where you invest your attention. But don’t split it between “superstars” and “pitiful mortals”. Look instead for every instance that someone, anyone, does something that fits the ideal and invest your attention, your energy, in supporting them to continue that. You will naturally invest more in those who are most successful but it will be on the basis of what actually happened instead of who did it.

It’s hard work to do this well but that’s the job.

And one more thing: stop all this attention we spend on task management. I heard a really fantastic insight from John Siracusa on the podcast Irreconcilable Differences that defined what most management involves. It unveiled a simple truth that makes a lot of sense and can be abused rather quickly.

“[Managers] want to know what are people doing. Is the thing that we think is gonna happen, gonna happen, or is it not gonna happen, and how far off is it gonna be? There is so much energy, time, money, and effort and software and hardware and everything spent just to keep them informed. I think of when my kids are constantly asking me how long is this going to take? When are we going to get there? It’s like you knowing when we get there is not going to cause us get there any sooner or later.” John Siracusa, Irreconcilable Difference, Episode 87, Minute 48:00.   

Are we there yet? When will we get there? Good questions. You need to pay attention them. But not too much. A watched pot never boils.