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Stephen Covey - 7 Habits of highly effective people

How does your Circle of Influence affect career progression?

I was working with a group of graduates recently and as we sat there talking about personal development plans and goals, I was struck by an ever familiar case of deja vu. Oh there was plenty of content going into the PDP and plenty of clarity around goals and aspirations. However, in many cases there was a large crevasse that had developed between “there” and “now”. In essence, they had sight of the end goal and some notion of what the pieces of the puzzle might be to get there but there was little actionable steps.

And I see this occur all to often, not only in development planning but also in strategic and operational planning.

So, let’s assume for a moment, we know what our end goal is roughly. We also understand some of the key component activities that will get us there. Why is it then, that people, plans and goals, so often miss their mark? With development plans it is often a case of another 12 months drifting by and we’re no further forward in our career plan. With operational plans it can be goals that slip or missing the target due to misunderstandings, poor data or a lack of connectivity between tasks and resource. If you have ever found yourself in that situation where you’re watching your career slow down, stagnate, stall or just amble along, then maybe this article will help you refocus and achieve more.

Back in the late 1980s a guy called Stephen Covey (a professor at Utah University) wrote a book called the “7 habits of highly effective people”. The book achieved critical acclaim and was a best seller business book for many years. Even Bill Clinton used the habits within his Presidential Government. Whilst the book makes for some great insight and should be read, I’m not going to go through it here. I am however going to pick up on part of the book that I think is one of the most fundamental and important parts of the 7 habits. A part that I think also has the power to dramatically improve people’s careers, direction and levels of personal achievement.

Habit #1 – Be Proactive

It’s a no brainer really isn’t it? Be proactive, in simple terms get stuff done. The reality is though, many people think they are proactive. But when it comes to career development it often falls down. Why? Because we are too busy, too stressed, there are only 24hrs and I work most of them! In the twenty years I’ve been involved in people development and the years before that as a manager of people, it hasn’t changed a whole lot!

Let’s take an example. Meet my friend Max………he’s a swell guy, always hard working, glued to his phone or emails (just in case the world collapses in the 2 minutes he doesn’t look at it!), works lots and lots of hours and is a real corporate gem.

For quite some time now, there has been a familiar conversation between Max and me where he describes his future, where he’s heading in the next 12-18months. It generally goes.

Max – “I want to work in London as a Senior Project Consultant, should be on about 90k, I want a BMW 5 series and there’s this detached country house in the village I want to buy someday”

That’s the short version, but it’s a conversation we’ve had a few times now.

Now it may not come as a surprise that we’re now a further 12 months on and not much has happened. When I ask him how his career plan is going, he generally says:

Max – “Oh work is crazy busy at the moment so I’ve not had the time.”¬† or “My boss is saying I’m too important to the project at the moment so they don’t want me moving accounts.” (never heard that one before!) or “my boss is holding me back and I don’t seem to be getting the opportunities.”

There are other responses but they are some of the most frequent. I wonder how many of us reading this are guilty of allowing the same sorts of excuses to escape our mouths, me included. The reality is, we can find that work life just has this way of taking over control of our mind and body and forcing us to work harder, for longer in order to prevent us from making progress on our own personal goals.

How do we change it?

Be Proactive! Hold on, I’ve said that already! Let’s move it on a step. Covey when he talks about the first habit, describes two circles:

The Circle of Concern

The Circle of Influence

In the circle of concern are all those thing that play on our minds from time to time, whether it’s the 90k job in London, or the worklife balance you don’t have or the house it seems like you’re never going to be able to afford. According to Covey we spend huge amounts of our energy talking about or thinking about these things in our circle of concern. Yet we can’t magically jump from where we are now to those things in the circle. So we need a way to get us there, the circle of influence.

In the circle of influence, we have those things available to us to make an impact or have influence on the things in our circle of concern. Max has a CV that he can send to agencies and companies to influence them in giving him an interview or selling him to companies as a great prospective employee. He has a voice with which he can personally speak to agencies and influence their view of him. He has the ability to influence his boss, or other contacts in his network about moving roles for breadth of experience. There are lots of things when we start to look at it in detail, that can help us influence the things in our circle of concern. But we already know this and we already have those things in our plan, but stuff still seems to drift, or fall short. Why? Because we need to focus on the circle of control.

Covey’s circles go some way to helping us focus our energy but in my view they don’t quite go far enough. People rarely fail to achieve because they don’t have the right things in their circle of concern and circle of influence. It’s most often because they don’t focus on the circle of control.

In the circle of control, are the specific and direct activities we are going to physically undertake over the next few days to move things forward. It’s a bit like our good intentions meeting up with JFDI and Mohammed Ali together! So in the example of Max, whatever else happens he is going to get home tonight and update his CV so it is fully up-to-date. Then he is going to create the list of agency emails he will send it to, then he will physically send it. Sounds simple enough!

The biggest difference between the circle of control and the other two circles is that you are making a personal commitment to take actual action. The thing that helps us is we’ve begun to break to bigger pieces of our circle of influence down into much more tangible smaller chunks of activity. Our aim here is to have a whole bunch of littler successes, rather than trying to get bigger ones and falling short. The bonus to this is that as we start to achieve these smaller steps, we see direction and motion occurring which feels good and so our energy goes up as a result.

Stephen Covey - 7 Habits of highly effective people

The circle of control is the one to master. It is the place to start, the place to create inertia and the place that will reap the greatest energy to keep you going.

So, go take a look at your development plan, strategy plan or operational plan and see if you can find where your circle of control is. If it’s not clearly visible from the plan you have, create a deeper, more detailed plan. If it’s not there, go more detailed still. Keep going until you have your day’s list of activities that link directly to your circle of influence.

Over time, you will naturally start to see movement and progression happening. As it does, your circle of influence will begin to expand towards those things in your circle of concern. Do it often enough and long enough and you’ll hit your goal much sooner that if you just allow the excuses to hold you back.

Start today, share this article with others you think would benefit from it.

About Andy H

Andy H

I have been working in Training & Development for over 20 years and also in web development and internet marketing for nearly 10 years. I have managed training functions and operational functions in some of the leading industry brands and been fortunate to learn from some amazing people. My specialist areas are experiential learning, coaching and performance consulting.

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