Expanding Your Circle of Influence

Blue vector winter sunshine in mosaic glass window

Like many of you, I’m reaching out to friends and colleagues to help me better understand the scope, dangers and opportunities of COVID-19. A recurring worry that we share is, “Are we doing enough? How can we balance the need to get up every morning to do what we can, with a sense of the insignificance of our efforts within the enormity of this crisis?”  

It reminds me of circles of concern and of influence, popularized by Stephen Covey. I wrote about this idea a few years ago:

Circles of concern are things we care about, from global warming to the choices our grown children make and the upturn or downturn of the economy. It’s the “stuff” we read in the paper, or watch on the news. Circles of influence are the things we can actually impact or affect – how we respond to an impatient coworker, whether or not we participate in a volunteer project, how much time we take to dig deeper and connect more dots in our work.”

In a time like this, when so much is beyond our control, it can be difficult to focus on what we can influence. Yet, when we allow our fears and sense of insignificance to take center stage, we hobble our ability to be effective in our lives. When we focus on what lies within our realm of influence, we experience an expansiveness that is positive and magnifying.

Here are some examples of what I’m seeing friends and colleagues do to expand their circle of influence in this trying time.

Play to your strengths. A client of mine leading an early childhood collective impact initiative reflected the other day that – at its heart – collective impact is about relationships. Building and maintaining relationships is one of the greatest strengths of a community weaver.  She is focusing on that particular strength these days. As she says, “I don’t worry about a shortage of COVID tests, because that’s the health department’s job. I don’t worry about making sure local businesses and nonprofits are getting loans, because that’s commerce’s job. What I can do is connect people in ways that are meaningful and have impact.”

Play the long game. Where do we want to be – as a network, a community, a society – when the pandemic subsides? Do we want to be more connected, have more trust in one another to be there through changing times? If so, what is our very best purpose to increase the odds that we will come through this fearful time stronger, more united? As community builders, we can take the time to imagine the future we want to inhabit, and enliven that vision through our work.

Hold the narrative of this time/Be a story keeper. Closely related to playing the long game is gathering the stories of people and communities coming together in service of one another.  There is – thankfully – no shortage of these stories unfolding every day.

Here in Helena, as around the world, we step outside at 8:00p each night to howl into the darkening sky. Our howls – to express our gratitude for frontline healthcare workers – now include over 7,000 people (roughly 20% of our community).

In a rural area of Montana, new moms worried about going out to shop. Within one hour a local church group organized a network to tend to their needs.

Thousands of people are sewing facemasks and offering them to anyone who needs one.

Local neighborhoods are creating “mutual aid societies” to help neighbors with shopping, medical supplies and the like. Note the re-popularization of the term “mutual aid” – recognizing that to serve and to be served is symbiotic.

Tell these stories. Tell them first to yourself, and then tell them to the world. Hold a narrative of possibility and compassion. Bring to life Mr. Rogers’ beautiful words:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Be honest when you’re struggling.  When asked, “How are you?” most of us reflexively say, “Good, and you?” even if our sky is falling.  These days, it can seem selfish to admit our struggles when we know of the deep suffering in our world.  But the humanity of this moment cannot be denied.  When you are honest when things are hard, you give friends and colleagues the opportunity to give you love and support, and you create safe space for others to admit that this is a hard time. For all of us.

Try to be honest about the challenges, and – when you can – share what you did or what you’re doing to get through or to live alongside those challenges. I’ve stopped my knee-jerk “Good, and you?” response when people ask how I’m doing. I’ll say, “Last week was really tough. It took all my discipline to do the things I know are good for me, like taking a walk, or eating well. Things are a little easier today, but this is a hard period.” Being honest has opened up deeper connections to the people I work with and love. We’re deepening our relationships and deepening our experience, together.

I ended my blog on circles of influence with these words:

“It’s unlikely that we will ever experience complete alignment between what we are concerned with and what we actually have influence over, but not leaning in to what we actually can impact assures that this misalignment will widen.”

Finding the time for grace, having patience with yourself, and reflecting on what’s within your circle can invite in a greater sense of balance in these times.  Let me know what you discover.

5 thoughts on “Expanding Your Circle of Influence”

  1. So happy to have been led to this inspiring blog. I look forward to reading more.

    “It’s unlikely that we will ever experience complete alignment between what we are concerned with and what we actually have influence over, but not leaning in to what we actually can impact assures that this misalignment will widen.”

    Now that’s a quote to remember.
    Thank you Deb!

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