The trip to business or personal success is rough enough, but it is impossible to get there if you don’t stay focused all the way to the end of the path to achieve it.
Be it a desire to build a personal career, business, empire or even winning an election, failure to stay focused on the ultimate objective leads only to failure. Those with the ability to remain focused on achieving the ultimate objective – despite any and all distractions, challenges, temptations and frustrations – are in the best position to achieve success. Focus does not assure success, but failure to focus assures failure.
There are two essential approaches to the focus on success: One is to remain clearly resolute as to the overall objective. But even more important than an unwavering dedication is the need to remain fixated on the actions needed to reach the goal. It is the failure to recognize the subtle need to remain focused to the very end on both that, in the end, causes the most disappointment.
The Presidential Election Offers a Useful Education
A good example of this subtle, dual nature of focus – or lack thereof – is the recent presidential election. Despite all the talk of demographic changes to the body politic, the only reason that Mitt Romney lost the election was because he and his campaign lost focus on the path to victory – just as victory was within their grasp. The Obama campaign made no such grievous error. They not only remained single-minded, but doubled-downed on its focus.
In 2009, Obama had been gifted with an economy in desperate straits. Although the economy by 2012 had stabilized, it remained mired in a languid state. The most charitable adjective that one could use to describe the pace of economic growth was “meager.” Barely 2 million of the 9 million jobs lost in the crash of 2008 had been recovered; 15 million people remained unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of homes had gone into foreclosure and all of the rest had lost significant value. The annual federal deficit and national debt had virtually doubled triggering the first ever downgrade of the US Government credit rating. The term “leadership in government” had become synonymous with gridlock and stalemate. It could hardly have been a more inauspicious time for a president to seek re-election.
Mitt Romney – by appearance and experience – looked to be the perfect candidate to take advantage of horrendously bleak economic news and waning voter confidence and win the election. Romney, after all, offered up a stellar record as a calculating, effective and efficient organizer and business leader. He made his fame and fortune on the basis of being a “turn-around” expert; and if anything needed to be turned around, it was the sour American economy. In poll after poll, when the question was asked, “Who is best qualified to deal with the economy?” Romney was consistently rated significantly higher than Obama. And yet, Romney not only lost, but also lost badly.
The Irony of Poor Judgment
How was Romney able to so adroitly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? It all comes down to that double-edge of focus. Romney was focused on what he wanted to achieve, but lost focus on how to achieve it; and that was the death knell to his dream of becoming president.
There were numerous issues and crises – both domestic and foreign – that came into play during the election, but none of them rose to the level of concern the American voter had for the pallid state of the economy. If Romney had remained focused to the very end on economic issues and his experience in business – to the exclusion of virtually all others – we would be watching Chief Justice John Roberts issue the presidential oath to Mitt next Monday, not Barack.
Instead, Romney allowed his focus to wander from the economy to immigration, women’s reproductive rights, health-care, Iranian nuclear bomb efforts, love for Israel, voter rights, Syria and the attack in Benghazi. These are all important – if not critical – issues, but none of them, in and of themselves, were a determining factor in the election; that was reserved for the economy.
At the same time, the Obama campaign ignored the Obama record (except for killing Osama and “saving the auto industry), and instead focused early, often and always on attempting to transform Romney’s strength – as a successful businessman – into his most glaring weakness. From day one – while Romney was talking about “self-deporting” illegal immigrants and de-funding Planned Parenthood – the Obama campaign relentlessly focused on characterizing Romney as a stiff, cold, calculating, uncaring business maven entirely preoccupied on his wealth, the wealth of his friends and paying as little in taxes as possible. And, it worked. (With no small amount of help from some of the gaffes Romney committed himself.)
A Election Victory is a Terrible Thing to Waste
In a way, it was a shame – and such a waste of opportunity – for Romney to spend over six years of his life focused on becoming president and to come so close, only to forever be seen and be voted upon as a loser. But the truth is that Romney has no one to blame but himself, because the closer he came to the achieving the objective, the more he lost focus on what it took to win.
Clearly, Romney was laser-focused on doing and saying (whether he believed it or not) what was needed to receive the Republican nomination; but once the nomination was in hand, his focus, his critical political gaze, seemed to drift. Rather than becoming the aggressor by keeping the economy front and center – and hammering at Obama’s failures – Romney allowed himself to be drawn away from focus on the economy, deficits and debt, to become mired in the muck of peripheral issues that may have been titillating but not telling in the outcome of the election.
Romney’s one “bright shining moment” during the campaign was the first presidential debate. Do you remember the topic of that first debate? Surprise, surprise – it was the economy. It was in this debate that Obama seemed lost in mumbling and mumbo-jumbo, while Romney seemed intensely focused and in command. There was universal agreement that Romney didn’t just win the debate, but that he demolished Obama. Many of the polls showed Romney surging into the lead, but for a moment. Instead of coming out of that debate with a renewed focus on the economy, Romney jumped into the quicksand of Benghazi and everything was downhill from there.
The Lesson to Learn
Romney is not the first, nor will he be the last individual or business to learn the lesson of focus the hard way. Too many times individuals and businesses arriving at the very cusp of achieving a long-sought achievement or goal, drift away from the sharp-edged focus that had driven them to the point of success. As success comes into sight and seems virtually assured, there seems to be a strange phenomenon that comes into play that lessens focus and distracts attention in other directions. As an individual or business comes close enough to taste the long-focused, long-sought objective, there is a temptation to revel in success not yet achieved.
A company that had been driven by a sharp-edged focus to achieve specific domestic objectives begins – as the goal comes into sight – to divert time, resources, interest and activity toward international expansion causing focus to become diluted and divided. The risk is that what has been long sought is not quite achieved; which in turn lessens the potential to achieve the new objective. Individuals who act as though they’ve already made it when they haven’t may never make it.
The lesson for individuals and businesses to learn is embedded in the iconic words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” You just can’t want something; you have to focus on what you want till you get it. Failure to remain focused on the objective – especially as it comes in sight – can lead to more painful disappointment than if the objective had never been in sight.
And the Moral of the Story …
Everyone understands and accepts that clear, unwavering focus is crucial to achieving any success. Focus is the beacon that lights the path and paves the road to success. If there is not clear, continuing focus on what is to be achieved and how it will be achieved, until it is achieved, then it won’t be. In the beginning it is easy for focus to be relentless, because there is nothing to do but to concentrate all effort on the objective. What many fail to understand and appreciate is that as the goal comes into sight and shifts from a desire to a probable reality, there is a tendency to lose focus and be diverted to other efforts. This is a critical mistake, because it is more agonizing to fail to achieve what we had worked so hard to achieve, just when it was in our grasp. Just ask Mitt Romney.