The circle of influence is a concept popularized by Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although Covey takes no credit for the idea, he was a master at explaining it in a way that is so clear and actionable that it has become part of our business lexicon.
Today, I’m going to do my level best to explain it to you in a manner that will allow a light bulb to go on and for you to be able to walk away from this episode and put a new habit into practice. Even if you think you’ve got the concept down, I encourage you to listen to this episode. It is always good to have a refresher.
I fall into this category myself. If you were to ask me if I live or embody the concept of circle of influence I would have said yes. I think of and employ the concept frequently. I’ve talked about a lot of the ideas in one way or another on previous episodes. I would describe this concept as a core of my philosophy and personality. And yet – I just re-read the chapter in 7 Habits and found myself learning more. Being reminded of little nuances I’ve forgotten. Being shown a different way to approach it. So, there is always something more you can learn.
Let’s start by defining the circle of influence. Think about your world in 3 buckets:
This you can’t control
Most people are pretty good about how they deal with the things they can’t control. There is a recognition that you can’t do anything about it, so you adjust your behavior in whatever way is relevant and you move on with your life. The majority of people recognize this situation the majority of the time.
The weather is a classic example. You can’t control the weather. You know it and, although you may be disappointed when an even gets cancelled due to the weather, you don’t let it eat away at you.
Another example I like to use is a sports example. When a referee makes what you think is a bad call, there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can yell and scream and post as many bad tweets as you want, it isn’t going to change the outcome. The reason I use this example is because I think it is an example of where people who otherwise generally recognize situations where they don’t have control temporarily lose sight of that fact.
When it comes to the things you can’t control, your best option is to recognize as quickly as possible that you have no control, which takes away their ability to control you. If you feel like this is an area where you need to so some additional development work, I suggest you listen to Episode 20 about Productive and Unproductive Worry.
Things you can control indirectly through influence
Within the circle is the circle of influence. These are the things you can control indirectly through influence. These are things that other people are responsible for, but for which you can impact their actions. Your circle of influence with your children, if they are still young, is pretty large. And, although it decreases as they get older, it is still a very large part of your circle. Your circle of influence at work is likely smaller than your circle of influence at home, but you still have influence. Your objective should be to increase your circle of influence to be as large as it can be.
I believe influence is a mindset issue. You need to 1. Believe you can influence the situation and 2. Take responsibility for your actions or response. The way you know if you are doing this is by looking at the language you are using:
Is the issue someone else’s fault?
Do you feel like you are the victim?
Are you talking in terms of ‘onlys’? If only I had a better boss. If only I had this certification. If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.
You have influence over each of these if only’s. And you can take action to influence them. When you give up your right to take action, you’ve made the choice to dis-empower yourself.
“If only I had a better boss.” What about your boss do you have a problem with? What can you do to build a relationship with your boss to gain influence that will change the impact? If they are a micro-manger, it means that they need a high level of detail to be comfortable. Increase the level of detail you provide when you communicate with them. By proactively doing this, they will become comfortable with you – they will trust in the work you are doing and will no longer feel the need to micro-mange.
“If only I had this certification.” If you think you aren’t getting considered for a role because you are lacking a skill, what are you doing to go get the skill?
“If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.” How can you help them understand? Are you documenting the scenarios that come up? Have you investigated the steps necessary to address the scenarios? Have you asked management for what you need to address the scenarios?
And, taking responsibility for your actions means that if you feel you’ve tried to influence and the outcome is still not acceptable, then you take action to move on.
Things you can directly influence
Which takes us to the final part of the circle of influence – things you can directly control. These are your habits, your mindset. Taking responsibility for your actions proactively is one of the key things that sets highly productive, highly effective, people apart. Taking action on your own behalf is a fundamental skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you believe that you are the architect of your career.
As human beings, one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our ability to be self aware. Our freedom to choose how we respond to a situation. When there is some sort of situation thrust upon us, we are the architects of our response. I’m not trying to imply that by having a positive attitude, you can turn a bad situation into a positive situation. Bad things happen. Sucky things will always suck. But, you have 100% control over how you choose to respond. You can let bad things eat away at you, impacting the rest of your life, or you can let bad things be one part of your story rather than the whole story.
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