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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Time Mindset can have a profound impact on your productivity. Productive people don’t have more time than unproductive people. But, they do have a different mindset about it. If you want to see an increase in your productivity, one of the things you need to think about is your relationship with time.
How much time have you spent thinking about your relationship with time?
Do you approach it unconsciously, or do you know where you stand with it?
I think a lot of people are really unconsciously dealing with time.
The symptoms of someone who doesn’t consciously understand their relationship with time are things like getting to the end of your day and not getting the most important things done.
Or starting every conversation with “I’m so busy” or “sorry I couldn’t get you what I promised, I’ve just been so busy.”
Another common symptom is negative self talk about your productivity. Telling yourself you just aren’t accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Being down on yourself or – even more diabolical, making yourself a victim of time.
These are all symptoms that occur when you aren’t conscious of your relationship with time. And, the simple way to fix them is to become conscious of it. Once you become conscious of it, you will begin to see that you can become more productive because your mindset sets you up to be more productive.
Notice your mindset about time. Are you making decisions about how you spend your time or are you unconsciously letting your time get by you?
Do you feel good about your time mindset?
Do you have a mindset about time that serves to make you more productive, or is it limiting you to a life where you feel like there just isn’t enough time?
Become someone who takes responsibility for your time mindset.
Expand your understanding of this topic by listening to Words Matter.
Stakeholder analysis is a good tool to have in your tool belt because it can be used to solve a lot of different problems. Stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying your stakeholders and analyzing them to understand their unique position.
The value of this tool is that it walks you through the process of identifying your stakeholders and their positions in order to make informed decisions. It helps you open your eyes to the different actors in the play and forces you to think about each one as a separate, unique person.
Who are stakeholders?
For any given situation, stakeholders are anyone who has a vested interest, or a stake, in your process.
When you want to get something done, you need to have your stakeholders onboard. In order to do that, you need to understand who they are and how you can best influence them. To do that, you should understand:
If you’d like to get a free Stakeholder Analysis Map, you can sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll give you access to it, and all of our other tools.
Getting ready to leave for a vacation, and coming back to work after vacation are usually very stressful. Sometimes you feel like you need a vacation after your vacation just to catch up. In this episode, we cover some tips for how to productively manage the time leading up to your vacation and the day you return from vacation.
The process starts 2 weeks before your schedule vacation:
1. Add an out of office notification to your signature. This is going to alert people to the fact that you are going to be out. It will nudge them to take action on something that they might need before you leave.
2. Review your calendar for the time you are away. Make a list of any deliverables that you need to prepare during your absence.
3. Block time on your calendar over the next 2 weeks to prepare everything on your list. For example, if you have a meeting where you are responsible for preparing and presenting a slide, you would block time on your calendar to both prepare the slide and make arrangements for someone else to present the slide at the meeting. Learn more about Time Blocking from Episode 10.
4. Block an Inservice Day, or half day for the day before you leave and the day your return. An inservice day is when you block your calendar as if you are out of the office, but you are actually working. It gives you the time and space you need to catch up because people think you are still out.
5. If you have the type of job where someone will be covering for you while you are out of office, block time on the calendar for a meeting with them to manage the transition. You should block time for before you leave and when you return.
One week before you leave, you will start to:
1. Say no to any new request that comes your way – don’t take on more work when you know you have a hard stop in advance of your vacation.
2. Be extra diligent about your priorities. You are going to go into hyper-vigilant mode. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, it can wait.
Some other tips:
Status Quo Bias is the tendency to stick with the status quo even when presented with a better option involving change.
Inertia is real! We all fall victim to it. The lack of motivation to make a change because what you are doing is working fine is natural.
When there isn’t an issue with the way things are working today, you don’t even think about how it could work better.
It takes action to break the status quo. But, first, you must recognize the need to take action.
There are processes in every company or organization that are a victim of status quo bias.
“we’ve always done it that way”
In the agile development methodology, there is a concept called the ‘retrospective’, sometimes called lessons learned. It is a process that serves to look at the activities of the last several weeks (called a sprint) and determine what worked well and what didn’t work well.
At it’s core, the concept is designed to challenge status quo bias.
The question is— within your process, what can be defined as a sprint?
How can you build in a process at the end of each sprint to challenge the status quo?
Ask yourself what worked and what didn't for each sprint. Then look for something that you can do differently to improve the process. At the next sprint, you’ll review again and find out if your change lead to improvement.
We all have times when we get into a funk – something in our life isn’t where we want it to be – our job, our marriage, or community involvement. When the funk is about your job, we sometimes call it the Sunday Night Blues.
So, how do you get out of the funk? The goal is to become unstuck.
Step 1: Recognize that you are feeling stuck
Getting stuck usually happens little by little, and you don’t always recognize that you are feeling stuck.
Step 2: Focus on the objective of getting unstuck
Tell yourself that getting unstuck is possible. Say it out loud. It helps with your mindset.
Step 3: Figure out what is causing you to be stuck
You may need to dig deep. The reason may not be obvious at first.
Step 4: Take Action
Use your unconscious mind to help you solve the problem.
Don’t wait until you know the answer to start moving in the right direction.
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We all have a list of goals longer than the amount of time we have to be able to accomplish them. This can be overwhelming and even discouraging.
In this episode, we are going to cover 4 tips that can help you make sense of your goals.
Someday Maybe List
A list of all of the ideas that you have but that you can’t get to immediately.
· Keep one list for work and a separate one for the rest of your life. When you change jobs, the one for your work can just be tossed.
· At least once per year, review the list to remove anything that you’ve already accomplished or that isn’t relevant anymore. In addition, determine if there is anything on the Someday/Maybe List that should be moved to your current projects list.
Get Clear About Your Priorities
Create a North Start List. What are the areas of your life that you must fulfill?
· Family obligations
· Work obligations
· Community obligations
· Personal obligations
Every goal you undertake needs to tie back to your North Start List.
Review Episode 1: North Star List
Understand What Type of Goal it is
“Why” Goals: Goals where you need motivation to keep you moving toward your goal
· Longer term
· Future oriented
For example: I want to lose weight so that I have more energy to play with the grandkids.
“What” Goals: Goals that are more concrete, difficult, or complex
· Detail oriented
· Shorter in duration
· Happening in the near future
For example: I am going to eat 3 vegetables today.
Know When to Give Up
Finding the balance between persistence and knowing when to give up is not easy. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you’ve reached the point where it may make sense to give up on a goal:
1. Is it a good use of your time? Given the limited amount of we all have, is this something that you should continue to invest your time in?
2. Is it costing you too much? Money, relationships, or some other opportunity cost. When you got into this goal, did you realize how much it would cost you? If you had know, would you have made the same decision to pursue the goal?
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We all multi-task. It is a vital part of the world we live in. What we need to become better at is learning how to determine when the multi-tasking that we are doing has become unproductive.
Productive multi-tasking is when the completion of two competing tasks don’t require your focus. For example, listening to a podcast while working out. You can do both without detriment to either. Generally, you do not need to focus on the treadmill in order to walk on it. That leaves your focus on the content of the podcast.
Unproductive multi-tasking is when the completion of two different tasks at the same time results in one or both of the tasks suffering. Answering email while on a conference call is an example. When you are focused on answering email, you aren’t listening to the conference call. Both things – reading and listening – require focus.
Examine your multitasking habits. Which ones are not serving you well?
Collaboration: To work with others toward a shared goal.
Every one of us is reliant on others in order to get our jobs done. That means that collaboration is a core skill that we must develop in order to be successful.
So, what are the core skills you need in order to be a better collaborator?
Build relationships before you need them
When you need to collaborate with someone, you will be more successful if you already have an established relationship with them. To do this, you need to ensure that you:
Balance the task with the relationship
By definition, you are working with someone else to accomplish a goal or task. So, it is easy to get so focused on the task that you forget about the relationship.
Use these tips to stay in balance:
Collaborate just for the sake of Collaboration
There are a lot of things that you can do by yourself. But, just because you can, doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone. Create an opportunity to work with someone else so that you can build that relationships. An easy way to do this is to ask someone to ‘poke holes’ in your plan.
The premise of this episode is that we are all interviewing for our job every day. The problem is that most of us don’t think about that after we get through the honeymoon period. We start off a new job and we are on our best behavior, but over time, we get comfortable in our role and don’t give much thought to the fact that every day counts.
My philosophy is that every day is an interview. This may sound like a pessimistic viewpoint, but it isn’t. I’m not coming at it from a victim’s point of view. I’m coming at it from the take-your-fate-into-your-own-hands point of view. I’m doing what is within my control to ensure that, if I lose my job, I have set myself up to be as successful as possible finding the next job.
My philosophy is made up of 4 parts:
Interviewing for my current job – adding value and establishing relationships across my company so that, when management is deciding about which people to cut, my name shows up at the bottom of the list.
Interviewing for my next job – Every person that you work with at your current job is likely to either move to a new job at another company or move to a new job within your company at some point. You want to make the kind of impression on them that, when they do make the move, they recommend you. That kind of impression happens day-by-day, week-by-week.
Keep your resume up to date – Again, if you lose your job unexpectedly, you are probably not going to be in the best frame of mind. Putting together a resume in that frame of mind is not ideal. It is also difficult to remember all of the things that you’ve accomplished that should be reflected on your resume when you haven’t updated it in a long time. Keep your resume up to date so that it is ready for you as soon as you need it.
For resources about how to do this effectively, check out these 2 episodes:
Episode 9 – Preparing for Your Annual Review
Episode 2 – Time Bound Activities
Network every day – Most jobs are found through acquaintances. By staying active with your network, you will be top of mind when someone knows about a job that needs to be filled, and they think you might be a good fit. If you get laid off unexpectedly, you don’t want to spend time warming up your network. Stay active on linked in. Make a practice of reaching out to people within your network regularly. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just say hi. You just want to remind the person that you are part of their network.
I teach people how to thrive at work. Let's connect on LinkedIn
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