Ron’s Short Review: Because you are older doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wiser. But, research does find that many people who do cultivate wisdom, gather wisdom at every age. Daniel Pink in his book “Whole New Mind” noted that pattern recognition is the only cognative ability that correlates to success. Older people who have cultivated wisdom are much better at pattern recognition because of their longer experiences.
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.
Have you ever heard the Serenity Prayer? It goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Keep that prayer in mind as we talk about something called the Circle of Influence.
I’ve seen this concept put forth in several areas. I believe one of them was in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen Covey. You have two concentric circles, the smaller inner circle can be labeled, “influence.” The larger outer circle can be labeled, “concern.”
The point is to be very clear about the areas of an organization you can influence versus the areas of an organization that you have concern for.
Your concern may be very well placed. It may be a concern for
- The overall growth and development of the company
- Future opportunities
- The obstacle that you face
- The competence of people making decisions in other parts of the company
Having a true concern for the greater whole is a wonderful thing. However, you need to be very clear about the areas that you influence versus the areas in which you may have a concern.
The purpose of the Circle of Influence is to be clear where you have genuine influence and where you can only express concern. Don’t believe that you can influence your area of concern.
Trying to influence your area of concern often leads to disastrous results and increases the stress within organizations. Many of the leaders I work with express a genuine concern for other pieces of the organization, good or bad. However, when they believe their concern justifies their
- Hands-on involvement
- planting that ideas that those people over there just aren’t performing well.
they have now tried to move their influence into their circle of concern.
Go back to the serenity prayer. The last line of says, “Give me the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s one thing to be smart. It’s a very different thing to be wise. It’s good to be concerned for the company and its success, but you can only influence your circle of influence. Trying to influence, control, exert power over your area of concern will only lead to bad results.
An article in the paper today mentioned a person and her credentials as a faculty member of the Evolving Wisdom Institute. Now, I know nothing about the person or the institute so this is not a comment on what they do or who they are. But the two words, “evolving institute” seem to be an oxymoron to me. Wisdom is considered one of the four cardinal virtues. Plato identified the four cardinal virtues in The Republic. Aristotle’s Rhetoric lists the virtues including wisdom. Thomas Aquinas is associated with wisdom and of course there is the entire book of Proverbs (from Latin: proverbium: a simple and concrete saying that expresses a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity).
Wisdom doesn’t seem to evolve. Wisdom is solid and stable and is continually being re-discovered with every new study on human nature. It seems to me that every time a new business book or research study comes out (Starting with the granddaddy of them all: In Search of Excellence) they end up discovering the:
- best leadership or
- best business practices or
- amazing brain research or
- studies on human nature,
they always point back to what these ancient philosophers and writers have been telling us for thousands of years. Wisdom has been the same throughout the history of man. Don’t assume it is evolving and you need to figure out where it’s going next. Assume your evolving with new ideas and assumptions (many of them good.) But periodically you need re-ground yourself in and re-discover the ancient wisdom and four cardinal virtues. They will always make you a better leader.