Circle of Influence Part II

by Ron

I was a little surprised by the number of comments and feedback I received recently about the Circle of Influence post.

The point was to be perfectly clear about the part of the organization you can influence versus those you can’t influence even though you may have concern for what’s happening or not happening “over there.”

Wisdom is knowing the difference and acting accordingly.

How should our behavior differ when we’re in a position of influence vs areas where we can only express concern?

Before we delve into the different behaviors, let’s look at one more circle.  Our circle of control.

If we think of three concentric circles, the outer circle would be labeled Concern, the next inner, smaller circle would be labeled Influence and the smallest circle at the center would be labeled Control.

Circle of Control

Note that this is described as the smallest circle of the three.  Our control circle is much smaller than we think and should be used so sparingly that people are almost shocked if it’s used at all.  Great leaders don’t control, great leaders influence.  As a kid, I always vowed that I would never use the phrase “Because I said so” when I became a parent.  My daughters will tell you that I didn’t stick to that vow.  But even as a kid, knowing a parent has ultimate authority, we still don’t like being told to do something simply because power and control are held by the other person.  We don’t like it as an adult either.  Just like there were moments when our parents needed to play the control card, there are also moments that we need to play the same card as a leader.  But with each playing of the card, your actual influence diminishes.  Play that card only in critical situations.

Circle of Influence

This is the circle where most leaders and team members should be found.  Influence is defined by “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.”  Notice when someone is having a positive effect on your Character, Development or Behavior.  It takes a great deal of trust, respect and caring.  Without trust, respect and caring, we have no ability to influence.  This is where the best leaders live.  The best leaders are influencers.

Circle of Concern

This is a legitimate area in our corporate lives.  We should indeed have concern for the entire organization and its success.  But, if we treat it like a Circle of Influence rather than expressing our “concern” we can create havoc in the organization.  Crossing this boundary between influence and concern causes some of the most disruptions I’ve seen in organizations.

I even worked with one CEO who seemed to use the lack of clarity about these boundaries to push his will on the organization.  Causing great destruction along the way.

This was a large company and therefore had Executive-VP’s which made up the Leadership Team around the CEO and then many VP’s below these EVP’s who were responsible for the various departments.  There was one strong point of disagreement between two of the EVP’s.  The CEO who was a tough, hard-charging type assumed that the two EVP’s would battle it out until someone won the argument.  He believed in the survival of the strongest.  But, rather than fighting it out and coming to a conclusion, these two EVP’s decided to “agree to disagree” and never solved the issue.  They simply never talked about it or dealt with it.

While the CEO was unwilling to push the issue at his Leadership Team level, he went one level down and talked to the VP who had the reputation of getting things done.  He seemed to give his full authority to this VP so this VP charged ahead.  Unfortunately, he quickly ran up against the “agree to disagree” level and neither EVP would budge.  I was working closely with this and became aware that the VP was considering leaving the company because of the inability to push forward with what the CEO was “demanding.”  Then I shared the Circle of Influence/Concern concept. 

The VP soon understood that this was a no-win situation and was personally frustrated enough to go back to the CEO and place the issue back in his lap to solve at his leadership team level.  That took nerve but it also produced clarity and eventually results.

Make sure you’re fighting battles that can be won.  If you’re trying to win battles in your area of concern, you’re destined to fail.

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