COVID-19 and leaders’ freedom to choose
Last spring, when the COVID -19 pandemic was unfolding, I was speaking to a leader in an international organization. Let us call him Richard here. He was concerned about the coronavirus spread, economic recession prospects, and the inability of leaders to act based on facts and in the spirit of solidarity. He said, “I am worried about keeping my employees, suddenly 100% remote, connected to the organization, engaged and motivated.” The weight of responsibility to keep the work going, combined with the burden of his own uncertainties and those of his staff members, often kept Richard awake at night. “I struggle with the complexity of the unknown,” he told me.
Most of Richard’s concerns and worries were legitimate, and he was voicing many of my own thoughts. No leader had a blueprint to rely on for leading in times of such a complex crisis. Most of us have been spending a lot of energy and focus on similar concerns and worries – with unprecedented stress levels.
The Covey’s Circles of Influence
Then, several weeks later, I rediscovered Stephen Covey’s concept of Circles of Influence. Imagine three concentric circles:
- Control – the most inner circle: things you can control directly
- Influence – things you can influence through your direct actions or through your contacts
- Accept – the outer circle: things that have an impact on your life and you are concerned about them but you can neither control not influence them.
I saw that when I spent a lot of time and energy on issues that I could not control or influence, I allowed those issues to control and influence me. With this came a feeling of being inadequate and helpless, and an urge to blame others or myself, with accusing attitudes and reactive language. I let the feeling of being a victim of the situation take over.
But when I put the Covey’s concept to work to sort out my own thoughts, almost immediately the alarming feeling of having no control, and the stress and anxiety it caused, were gone. I discovered how to gain influence when I felt I had none, and found out that I had more power than I thought. I had more time and energy to focus on other things.
Why to make it our daily leadership practice
It is a pity that, while many often speak about the Covey’s concept, it is not a daily leadership practice. We have now been applying it in our work with others and we know that it works. It is a great resilience tool.
It allows leaders to develop self-awareness, so the concerns and worries outside their control and influence no longer drain their energy and skew their attitude towards things they can influence or control. With this self-awareness, leaders are able to free their energy and focus, and redirect them where they are needed most. And if they are able to focus on acting within their circle of influence, their influence will only grow.
It allows teams to become more aware of what is really worth their energy, alleviate their stress and increase workplace satisfaction. It builds empathy between team members. The teams identify and resolve issues faster, and they become more productive and engaged. Often they realize that they can influence more than they think, or they can change their attitude and the way they act.
The FOCUSED method
To help put the Covey’s concept to a practical use, we have designed the FOCUSED method. FOCUSED stands for:
- Framing: understand the three circles of control, influence and concern
- Organizing: create a list of all things you are concerned about in your work or a specific task/project
- Categorizing: assign each item on your list to one of the three circles
- Uncovering: reflect honestly on where each item is and why it is there
- Shifting: move items to the circles where they now belong, after your reflection
- Evaluating: reflect once again and create final categories; consider specific actions within your circle of influence
- Dedicating: make a firm commitment to focus on these specific actions
You can download a simple guide to help you expand your circle of influence from our Resources page.
- The circle of control is much smaller than you think, and should be used cautiously. The best leaders do not control, they influence.
- The circle of influence is where most leaders and team members should be.
- The circle of concern should not be mistaken for the other two. If you are trying to win battles in your area of concern, you are setting yourself up to fail. Crossing the border between influence and concern causes serious disruptions in organizations. Accept this lack of control, and focus on your values and purpose instead.
Make sure you are fighting battles that can be won. Stay FOCUSED. It works for our leaders and teams, and it will work for yours, too.