The Circle of Influence

Yes, we all are concerned about so many things. From economy, inflation, politics, our own health, our mortgages, future of our kids and the list goes on. In businesses where things are in a constant state of flux, things get worse. 

Acknowledging these concerns is important but constantly spending our scarce energy only on these concerns is futile. When faced with situations, challenges and concerns, it may be useful to ask the following questions:

  • Can I do something about it myself? Is it under my direct control? Is the onus of resolution or change on me? (Direct control)
  • If not, can I influence someone who can address/solve/change this? (Influence)

This is our circle of influence*. Anything outside this is a circle of concern. We can remain concerned about it but may not be able to do anything much – except for adapting to these situations and choosing our response in line with these concerns.

In organizations, a LOT of time is spent on discussing about things outside the circle of influence – and it is a waste. When the same energy is utilized to address things within our circle of influence, progress happens. As we do more within our circles of influence, the circle expands. We become proactive when we understand our circle of influence.

Focusing on circle of concern alone is negative energy that breeds scarcity mindset. But acknowledging concerns and then focusing on your circle of influence opens up possibilities and fosters growth. It is abundant.

“Try to Absorb what is useful, Discard what is useless, and Add what is essentially your own.” – Bruce Lee

Once you have identified your circle of influence, it is important to also act on it. When you can solve something, you must solve it without letting your worries and concerns interfere. Knowing that something is in your circle of influence and not doing anything about it is a real disservice (to yourself, your teams and your organization).

This is even more critical when people look up to you as a leader.

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* Stephen Covey defined circle of influence in his iconic self help book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (1989)”

What Enables Proactive Leadership?

If there is one thing that differentiates leaders from others, it is their ability to remain proactive. I have seen so many leaders in business environment who don’t fix things till they start hurting the work. They devote more time to solve the problems that could have been fixed much before they happened. The cost of solving these problems after they grow big is often very high – sometimes, as high as losing a customer or your key team members!

What are the enablers of proactive leadership? Here are a few that came forth.

  • Systemic Understanding: Understand the System when taking decisions or evaluating issues. It is about understanding the critical interdependencies of parts within the whole. A wrong decision in one department may have long term repercussions elsewhere. The key is to see (and let your team see) those repercussions through the understanding of the system.

“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.” – Peter Senge

  • Constant Learning: Learning feeds proactive leadership. We all make mistakes all the time but a learning team constantly apply lessons from past mistakes to prevent them from happening in future. Constant learning also allows people to apply their knowledge to the specific business context. Here are more ideas to build a learning organization.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

  • Foresight. A leader needs to be watchful about the changing landscape and currents. They keep a close watch on discrete events and use their systemic awareness to foresee challenges, issues and risks. While they may not be able to prevent all the issues from happening, but they can always use this awareness to prepare well.

Leaders that fail to assume responsibility for developing the discipline of foresight will eventually forfeit the moral authority to lead. – Bret Simmons (post)

  • Openness to Feedbacks: Feedback and inputs from people at all levels enables leaders to understand situation at a ground level while also staying current on expectations and needs of people. In many situations, this feedback can act as a compass.

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

  • Quick Action on Solution: Don’t let the grass grow under your feet. Risks, issues and dependencies can derail your organization if they are allowed to grow. A proactive leader maintains a constant cognizance on the potential threats and keeps them in check all the time. If you are a leader, don’t let the problems grow. Act on them.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

  • Keep the team together. A leader who leads through a compelling vision, fosters learning and builds influence keeps the team together. People need an ecosystem to perform proactively. A leader’s ability to connect, communicate and clarify constantly on vision, values, intent and progress enables teams to take decisions with better clarity.

“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth Blanchard


Join in the conversation: Have you seen reactive leadership in action? What have been your lessons? Share them via comments or via Twitter!