This model is reflected by a famous quote by Reinhold Niebuhr: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern and Influence is a mental model that focuses attention and effort on factors that lie within your influence, thus helping to shift you from being reactive to proactive.
WHAT'S IN YOUR POWER?
The Circle of Concern encompasses areas that might impact you but are outside of your control and influence. This might include aspects of your environment, the behaviour of others, or external systems and processes. In contrast, The Circle of Influence encompassing factors that you can directly influence.
REACTIVE vs PROACTIVE.
Covey notes that reactive people primarily focus on factors outside of their influence, blaming external circumstances in a disempowering process that eventually reduces their influence.
Meanwhile, proactive people focus their attention and activity on what they can influence which increases as a result.
IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.
An interesting model to combine with this is the Impact Effort Matrix, which helps to prioritise activity — in this context, it would contribute to a deeper understanding of factors within your control that will make a difference. Focusing on this model might improve your happiness, similar to models such as Ikigai.
The model runs in contrast with Diversification which encourages a broader approach.
- Audit your focus.
Spend a week tracking how much you focus on factors that are out of your control. A useful sign is to identify when you complain or blame.
- Identify your level of control and influence.
Consider a specific problem in your work or life and map out what you can control or influence in regards to it.
- Ask yourself ‘what’s my next best move?’
Shift your focus back on your Circle of Influence by habitually asking ‘what's my next best move, however modest, that will allow me to positively impact on this challenge?’
- Audit and change your peers.
Consider your conversations over the previous two weeks. Which people encouraged you to focus on your Circle of Concern? These might have been blaming, complaining or gossip themed conversations. Consider how you might shift those conversations or spend more time with peers who empower you to focus on your Circle of Influence.
- Use the Proactivity Tool.
Use the grid and stakeholder table on the Proactivity tool below. Map possible actions according to levels of impact vs influence, before prioritising your activity accordingly. An additional step can involve identifying a stakeholder engagement plan to continue to grow your Circle of Influence.
Victor Frankl and the holocaust
Covey’s example of applying this model puts a lot in perspective. He cites the story of Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl and his experience in the Nazi holocaust.
Frankl saw most of his family killed and everything stripped away from him, yet he endured. Frankl said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Hopefully, you’ll use this heroic example of proactivity as inspiration rather than intimidation.
It can be difficult to determine what’s in your Circle of Concern versus your Circle of Influence. For example, as a senior manager, a member of your team might be influenced by you yet will ultimately make their own decisions. One strategy to mitigate this is to consider an additional element called the 'Circle of Control', which relates directly to your behaviour at the centre of the two circles.
Another potential challenge lies when taking this model to its extreme, as it can be used to justify 'narcissistic tendencies' by focusing on yourself rather than using it as a means to engage or impact the external world.
This model particularly aligns with productivity models that encourage high value activity.
Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave the circle of concern and influence into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above.
- Psychological Safety: this model can support the development of psychological safety by shifting from a blame culture.
- Growth mindset: combining this mental model with a growth mindset allows you to consider how to increase your circle of influence.
- Habit formation and habit stacking: developing these practices as daily habits and processes to use in meetings becomes a powerful life approach.
- Cialidini’s Six Principles of Influence: Cialdini's model aims to extend your influence over people and can be used to challenge the defined limits of the circle of concern and influence as a result.
- Jealousy as a Map: to help establish your priority goals.
This model was created by Stephen Covey, author and speaker and was first featured in his book 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People'. Find out more by visiting the Franklin Covey Institute here.
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