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Personal leadership

Saving your management sanity

In every dilemma, we are confronted by the limits of our influence.

“Dee Endelman has an outstanding ability to gather information about group dynamics and facilitate a comfortable, non-threatening context in which people can overcome apparent differences to work together constructively. She manages to do this without appearing either condescending or Pollyanna-ish. I am personally rather skeptical of such processes, but can (and have) recommended Dee for the most challenging circumstances.” — Commissioner, Washington State Human Rights Commission

One of the tools I’ve found most valuable in coaching managers is a simple, personal one call the Spheres of Influence. I first heard of the spheres years ago from my colleague Bonnie McFarland of La Bella Via. Since then, it has proved useful in saving the sanity of many people I have coached. It is truly a key concept to be shared with you.

The model suggests that, in every dilemma, we are confronted by the limits of our influence. The spheres of our ability to do something about the situation are three concentric circles. In the center is a small circle that are the "Things I Can Control." Surrounding this is a somewhat larger circle, "Things I Can Influence." Finally, there is a large circle, "Things I Need to Let Go Of!"

What we can control

The “things I can control” sphere of influence is both very small and right in the center of things. This is because we can usually control very little of the outside world. The weather just happens. Other people do what they do. I once was coaching a manager who wanted to order her employees to stop going out to lunch with negative ex-staffers! Definitely not in the “things I can control” box (not if you want to avoid out-and-out rebellion!)

There is, of course, something right in the center of things that we can control — our selves and our responses to whatever comes our way. That manager and I talked about how, while she could not control her employees’ luncheon companions, she could control her internal response to the situation. Instead of being fearful that the ex-staffers would infect her employees with a negativity virus, she could focus on how well her employees were doing these days and make sure she gave them lots of positive signals to keep their morale high. Which brings us to the second sphere.

What we can influence

This sphere is bigger and emanates from the center of our control, our own attitude towards things. We are usually influencing the people around us, whether we know it or not. The sphere model suggests that we can do it intentionally, to help create a more positive outcome.

For example, take the manager discussed above. Although it would be difficult — and probably undesirable — for her to control the lunchtime activities of her staff, she did have the ability to influence how her staff perceives the working environment. If this manager is calm and unafraid; if she appreciates the good work her staff is doing; and she expresses that appreciation, she will definitely influence the working environment for the better. Then, when her employees have coffee with the ex-staffer-Negatrons, they may not take their viewpoints seriously.

Letting go

The final sphere is the biggest and farthest from our locus of control — all of those things that we cannot control and over which we have very little or no influence. Hurricane Katrina, a decision by a federal bureaucrat that negatively impacts your business (but is unlikely to change because you object to it), your company being acquired…or your employees’ lunchtime occupations (as long as they’re legal)!

The ironic thing is that we often spend much energy in this sphere. I remember arguing politics for hours — it felt like days — with a relative who had fundamental disagreements with my point of view. At a certain point, I realized that I was attempting to control (or at least significantly influence) his opinions and that he had absolutely no desire to change these opinions. I didn’t either. And the discourse (I use the term loosely) was doing nothing for our respective blood pressure levels!

My relative and I had much more satisfying conversations once we started to focus on our common ground, rather than our disagreements. In areas of common ground, we could influence each another and actually create things together.

Keys to navigating the spheres of influence

When you run into a dilemma, think of the spheres.

Control sphere activities:

  • Ask, “What, really, is in my control here?”
  • Ask, “What do I want to do about the things that I can control?”
  • Spend much of your energy in this sphere, since it is often about how you personally chose to see the situation. If you identify that internal locus of control, you can act from an authentic and strong place.

Influence sphere activities:

  • Ask, “How can I influence this situation to create a positive outcome for myself and others?”
  • Recognize that this often involves your working with other people (over whom you probably have little ultimate control).
  • Spend time here. It is surely worth it to use your influence to create a positive outcome for yourself and others.
  • Recognize that the outcome may not be what you have planned. Pay attention to the outcome you would like to create but let go of that outcome at the same time.

Let go sphere activities:

  • Don’t spend time here. It will make you crazy.
  • Ask, “If I can’t control this, how can I take care of myself in this situation?”
  • This question will lead you back to the smallest and most critical sphere!

Years after I talked about the spheres of influence with the lunchtime-dilemma manager, she told me that she tacked the spheres up over her desk, just to remind her of how to save her sanity.

Here’s to mental health!

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Contact Dee Endelman ~ phone 206-320-0708 ~ email dee@keysconsult.com
Keys Organizational Consulting, LLC ~ 1521 17th Ave. E. ~ Seattle, Washington 98112
Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved.

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Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved.