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“Circles” – A Framework for More Effective Leadership

Historically, in art and literature, the circle can represent various symbolic meanings and convey different ideas depending on the context and cultural references. The circle can represent unity and wholeness, perfection and balance, protection and enclosure, continuity and infinity or unity of the self or the universe. But how does a circle create a framework for leadership?

The Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern are concepts introduced by Stephen R. Covey in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." These circles help individuals understand and prioritize their focus and energy in different areas of their lives. Here's an explanation of each circle:


Circle of Concern: The Circle of Concern represents all the things in our lives that we care about or that have an impact on us, but over which we have little or no control. This circle includes global issues, economic conditions, other people's behavior, natural disasters, and so on. These concerns can often generate worry, anxiety, and frustration. However, despite our concern, we may not have the power to directly influence or change these external factors.

Circle of Influence: The Circle of Influence represents the areas of our lives where we have direct control and can make a difference through our actions, decisions, and behaviors. This circle includes our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, relationships, health, personal goals, and professional development. It reflects the aspects of our lives that we can influence and for which we take responsibility.


What if we focus on concerns we cannot influence, rather than those areas of focus we can influence?


While it's natural to have concerns about the world around us, it's important to differentiate between productive concern and excessive worry. Focusing on what we can control and taking proactive steps to address those areas can help alleviate unnecessary worry and promote a healthier mindset. Learning to accept the things we cannot change and redirecting our energy towards productive pursuits can contribute to a more fulfilling and balanced life. Worrying about things outside of our ability to influence can have several negative effects on our mental and emotional well-being. Here are some of the dangers associated with excessive worry in such situations:


Increased stress: When we worry about things beyond our control, we often experience heightened levels of stress. This can lead to physical and psychological health problems, including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and impaired immune system functioning.


Decreased productivity: Excessive worrying can consume our mental energy and distract us from focusing on tasks at hand. It can make it difficult to concentrate, solve problems effectively, and make rational decisions. This can lead to decreased productivity and hinder our ability to accomplish important goals.


Strained relationships: Constantly worrying about things outside of our control can cause us to become preoccupied and irritable. It may also lead to seeking reassurance or venting to others repeatedly, which can strain relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. People may become frustrated or distance themselves if they feel overwhelmed by our constant worry.


Missed opportunities: When we are preoccupied with things beyond our influence, we may miss out on opportunities that are within our control. By focusing on what we can't change, we may overlook or dismiss areas where we have agency and can make a positive impact. This can hinder personal growth and limit our ability to seize new experiences or overcome challenges.


Reduced well-being: With employee well-being in the forefront or organizational initiatives right now, this should be a major consideration. Worrying about things we cannot control can contribute to a general sense of helplessness and hopelessness. It can create a negative outlook on life and diminish our overall sense of well-being. Constantly dwelling on uncontrollable circumstances can lead to a pessimistic mindset and a diminished ability to find joy and satisfaction in the present moment.


The key insight from Covey's concept is that highly effective people focus their time, energy, and resources on their Circle of Influence rather than wasting it on things in their Circle of Concern. By shifting our attention to the areas where we can make a meaningful impact, we can increase our sense of control, reduce stress, and become more proactive in achieving our goals and living in alignment with our values. Covey suggests that instead of worrying about the issues in the Circle of Concern, we should identify the things within our Circle of Influence and work on expanding that circle. By taking proactive steps to improve ourselves and our immediate sphere of influence, we can gradually expand our impact and address larger concerns. The ultimate goal is to focus our energy on the areas where we can make a difference while accepting the things outside our control with a sense of understanding and serenity. This approach can lead to increased effectiveness, personal growth, and a greater sense of fulfillment in life.


So, how do these circles help leadership in an organizations become more effective?

The concept of the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence has significant implications for business and organizational leaders, especially those who are spending the public’s money. Here's how these circles can impact a leader’s effectiveness, influence, mindset, prioritization, and decision-making. This circle was also taken into consideration for the redesign of the CMF Leadership logo for many of these reasons.


Business leaders often face a multitude of concerns and challenges, and must prioritize their focus and resources, both internal and external to their organizations. The Circle of Concern helps leaders recognize that they cannot control everything and that it is essential to prioritize their attention and resources to those things they can influence. By identifying their issues within the Circle of Influence, leaders can concentrate their efforts on areas where they can make a meaningful impact and allocate resources strategically.


Enhancing decision-making is another benefit of identifying if something is within your Circle of Influence or your Circle of Concern. Understanding the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence can guide leaders in making better decisions by focusing on their Circle of Influence. Leadership can identify actionable steps and solutions to address specific issues within their control. This proactive approach allows them to exert influence and drive positive change rather than being consumed by worries and circumstances beyond their control.


Promoting a proactive mindset for leaders who recognize and act within their Circle of Influence will help foster a proactive mindset within their organizations. They encourage their teams to focus on what they can control and empower them to take ownership and initiative. This can lead to a more engaged workforce, increased problem-solving capabilities, and a culture of accountability. By managing external factors and recognizing that external factors such as market trends, competition, and regulatory changes fall within the Circle of Concern and are not usually something we can influence, leaders can help their followers understand the concept of focusing on things they can actually influence also. The focal leader may not have direct control over these factors but they can still influence how their organization responds to them. By identifying the aspects they can influence, such as adapting strategies, optimizing operations, or building strategic partnerships, leaders can navigate people focusing on external challenges effectively and position their businesses for success.


This focus on influencing things within their control helps in building resilience. Leaders who understand the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence are better equipped to build resilience within their organizations. They recognize that external factors may impact their business, but they focus on developing internal strengths and capabilities to overcome challenges. By nurturing a culture that emphasizes adaptability, learning, and continuous improvement, leaders can prepare their organizations to navigate uncertainties and thrive in dynamic environments.


A Framework For Leaders and Followers


Ultimately, the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence provide a framework for business leaders to make conscious choices about where to direct their attention, resources, and efforts. By prioritizing their focus on what they can control and influence, leaders can enhance their effectiveness, promote a proactive mindset, and create conditions for success in their organizations.


The key insight from Covey's concept is that highly effective people focus their time, energy, and resources, including their followers, on their Circle of Influence rather than wasting it on things in their Circle of Concern. By shifting our attention to the areas where we can make a meaningful impact, we can increase our sense of control, reduce stress, and become more proactive in achieving our goals and living in alignment with our values.


Covey suggests that instead of worrying about the issues in the Circle of Concern, we should identify the things within our Circle of Influence and work on expanding that circle. By taking proactive steps to improve ourselves and our immediate sphere of influence, we can gradually expand our impact and address larger concerns. The ultimate goal is to focus our energy on the areas where we can make a difference while accepting the things outside our control with a sense of understanding and serenity. This approach can lead to increased effectiveness, personal growth, and a greater sense of fulfillment in life.


About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the owner of CMF Leadership Consulting and is currently is the Business/HR Manager for a District Attorney’s office in California. Chris is a Leaderologist II and Vice President of the National Leaderology Association (NLA) who holds a Doctor of Education (Ed. D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is a developer, trainer, consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations since 2010. Chris is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a former National Instructor for the International Association of Chiefs of Police and California P.O.S.T. Courses. Chris is the author of "Because Why... Understanding Behavior in Exigencies." and of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior." Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service leading such teams as the Homicide Team, the Hostage Negotiations Team, the Street-Level Drug Team and the School Police Officer Team.



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