At The Village Family Service Center our culture centers around “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. The book’s premise is that our perception is our reality, and it offers seven habits that allow us to change the way we perceive.
One of Covey’s key ideas is a Circle of Concern, which is where we choose to focus our time and energy. Clearly there are things in this world that we have concern for, but we have little ability to alter. For example, you may have concern for the famine in Darfur, but outside of sending money to the Red Cross, you have little influence over the situation. You can have an impact on the hungry children by volunteering your time and donating money to local organizations. This ability to influence a situation is called the Circle of Influence.
According to Covey, a proactive focus or positive energy can enlarge the Circle of Influence, and negative energy or a reactive focus can reduce the Circle of Influence. The same can be said for how we interact with people, and in turn lead.
Think about a boss or supervisor who is demanding, overly critical, takes credit for things they did not do, sets expectations without gaining needed input, or creates an unstable environment. Basically, they’re not a nice person. Likely you would do the bare minimum to get the job done. You would come in when you needed to and race out as soon as you could. This person has little influence over you, mostly because you have little to no respect for them. Covey would say that this was an example of reactive focus, and that this supervisor’s approach creates a negative work environment that decreases his or her Circle of Influence.
Now, consider a leader who attempts to create an environment that is based on being inclusive and understanding, and who attempts to make educated decisions and create change that is based on data and dialogue. This person takes the time to know who you are and what skills you bring to the organization. They strive to understand how they can create a synergistic relationship between leader and follower, and more importantly, they see everyone as having the ability to lead. This person encompasses the true meaning of team and creates a community of people who strive to develop not only the organization, but each other. An individual who has these characteristics most likely has a proactive focus, and this positive energy will grow their Circle of Influence.
Growing our Circle of Influence is a powerful tool for growing ourselves, our opportunities and organizations, which is why a proactive focus is so important. Many people who struggle to grow their influence try to influence people by using power. Unfortunately, power does not create an environment that is conducive for people to feel valued; in fact, it exacerbates a culture of fear, which limits interactions and slows innovation.
Leading by influence is about people making a judgment to follow someone because of how they interact and include others in their decision-making, rather than feel that they must out of fear for their job, salary, position, etc.
It boils down to the cliché that you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar, yet it is always fascinating how when people gain the smallest amount of power, they lose sight of who they are, slip into power-based leadership, and eventually begin to push people out of their circle.