Having influence at work is like harnessing the wind that blows into the sails of your ship: it results in the support from your staff, your peers and your boss to advance your projects forward. Without it, you may notice your work is lagging behind: your comments and ideas are ignored, and your team feels they are not being well represented in organizational decision-making.

Life for managers would be easier if they had full authority or control over all the matters that concern them. Many decisions, however, such as budget allocation, organizational policies and procedures, and the boss’s leadership style constrain their choices in how they and their team function. Effective managers use their energy to focus on those areas over which they do have influence, with a view to increase that influence over time. They do this with an understanding of the needs and goals of others around them.

How does this work in the real world? A colleague of mine was once in a situation where she was hired to start up a new position to improve business innovation in a large not for profit organization. Soon after she started, a financial crisis hit the organization and her boss’s goals focused on short term operational matters, far from the long term goals of developing innovation strategies. Her calls to him were going unanswered. Rather than fret about ‘being ignored’, she undertook to understand the new challenges facing the organization and her boss, and where she might be able to help them meet immediate goals. She identified projects that were underway, and chose to focus on the one overseeing the implementation of the new electronic health record. She applied her knowledge and skill of problem solving and facilitation to help that team deal with its problems and meet its objectives. She received the team’s thanks for her contribution. She then received a note of appreciation from her boss, including an invitation to identify what she thought she could work on next .

Stephen Covey wrote about the Circles of Influence and Concern in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Written in 1989, it has continued to command attention 30 years later. Put your name on the waiting list at the library and you’ll have to wait over a year before you get it. (I recommend you buy it if you don’t already have it.)

His solution was to be proactive in your area of control and influence, and to not waste time fretting about what lies outside it.

As a manager, therefore, you are advised to focus your energy on those things you can do something about, and not waste time doing things that are beyond your current sphere of influence. This practice will ultimately work to expand your influence.

Here are some time wasters that occur when we act outside our circle of control and influence:

We complain, gossip, or blame the people who are making the decisions.
  • For example, we moan about getting the worse shifts, or grumble about  the tasks assigned to us, or we feel jealous that someone else is the boss’s favourite.
We have delusions of grandeur that our influence is greater than it is.
  • For example, we think we have more influence than we do and make demands that are then shot down. We can express righteous indignation in those cases, but it won’t get us anywhere.
We become passive and let others set the agenda.
  • For example, we spend our time wishing things could be different and sit and wait for them to get better.
We wish people would behave differently.
  • For example, ‘if only my boss were clearer on what he was asking’; i’f only my staff showed more motivation’.

Here are four practices to increase your circle of influence:

“Sell” your value proposition.
  • To influence those inside and outside your organization, focus your efforts and communication on those areas where you, your team and your program make a difference in your clients’ lives, and what the funder will see as a return on their investment.
  • State your team’s focus clearly. Specify a) how much time your team is spending, b) on which programs, c) to help which clients, and d) to achieve what positive outcome. Have 3 or 4 statements ready to account for at least 70% of how your team spends its time.
Build on your strengths.
  • This includes knowing what you do well. It is important to measure the outcome of the work you do. In health care, for example, in addition to knowing how many people you serve, know and be able to describe what difference was made in improved health: they recovered from an injury, their activity level increased, or they have increased access to nutritious food.
Look for points of intersection, and show how you can help others solve their problems.
  • The more you know about the objectives of others in your organization, the better you can assess how your activities may help them achieve their objectives. They, in turn, may become more familiar with your aims and work to help you.
Increase your personal listening and communication skills to influence people on a 1:1 basis.
  • Whether practiced in a group setting or one-on-one, all influence ultimately comes down to personal relationships. See the article by Rebecca Knight in The Harvard Business Review, How to Increase Your Influence at Work, to review the dos and don’ts of inter-personal communication and relationship building.

How to make this practice part of your daily routine

To apply this to your own situation, draw 2 circles, one inside the other. In the outer circle list what is of concern to you: include items such as your health, the budget, your boss is micromanaging you, your staff are gossiping too much.

Now, in the inner circle list what you can influence: nutrition and fitness behaviours, setting and reaching targets for your area of service quality and efficiency, anticipating your boss’s need for information and providing it in advance of him asking, and using strategies to manage gossip (view the blog post for tips on managing gossip).

List the activities and percent of time you spend daily in each circle. Now make a ‘note to self’ to notice when you are acting outside of your circle of influence in the future, and commit to substituting the strategies that will help you increase your influence instead. Look over the subsequent days, weeks and months for positive changes in how others respond to your ideas and suggestions.

Please share what strategies you have used to increase your influence.

(Blog post photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels)