Covey’s Circle of Influence in Coaching

by | Feb 13, 2024

Circle of Influence vs. Control

Blurry or sharp? Which word better defines the distinction you make between the things in your life you can control and the parts and pieces of life you can only influence? I’m referring to the border between your circle of influence and circle of control.

In my case, blurry is the honest answer. In the past I have given too little conscious thought to the categories Control and Influence. This neglect inadvertently led me to pull more weighty stuff, including people, into my Control zone than belongs there.

We humans are a strange breed, aren’t we? Our instinctive wish to determine outcomes and make sure certain things happen so often gets the upper hand in our thinking, choosing, and planning. Making something work according to our notion of good and right becomes our default mode, the corner we naturally find ourselves in. Do we like the effort of keeping all the threads in our hands and trying to pull the right one at the right time? Likely not. But this way of being has become so familiar that it becomes our go-to space, our safety and security in a volatile world. We try to control because we are afraid.

Gaining Clarity

Here’s a shout out to all the bright minds who develop or popularize concepts and tools to help us move from the blurry zone – the place of too many pots on our control stovetop, too many plates to keep spinning atop sticks – into a broader space.

In a recent coaching session with one of my clients, Stephen Covey’s Circles of Influence model was again the focus. My client had spent time between sessions clustering the material of her life and the focus of her thoughts into the appropriate categories: Control, Influence, Concern. She was unsatisfied with her results. Way too many items were lined up at the border between Control and Influence. And she was struck by the difficulty of knowing where to place what. Her challenge reflected an oversized need to control.

Again, how human. How typical. How familiar. At least to me.

I asked her to imagine the impact of pushing back the wall of tasks and duties crushing in on her inner circle of control. The impact of all these things suddenly not needing her control. This change meant positioning them in the spacious middle of the next circle – Influence.

She had an immediate answer – and its clear positivity surprised me. She said two words: “Amazingly ______”.

The idea of her giving up a sense of control over so many things led me to expect a negative adjective following the first word “amazingly.” Perhaps hard, impossible, or scary? But no, she filled in the blank with freeing. In her own words, the possibility of having much less to control felt freeing more than anything else. Wow. That hits me as refreshing not to mention desirable.

Taking steps toward change

Now it’s up to her to decide if she wants to move from the realm of imagining to actually experiencing, from a momentary mental shift to an ongoing change in her posture and mindset.

This type of change goes against her default. Goes against deeply ingrained habits. This type of change will be tough and will require commitment and community. Someone across the table, someone at the other end of the line.

And so I see another person learning more about what it means to create more space between self and the items and relationships that make up life. Learning and feeling the newness and goodness of controlling less and allowing more. Of increasing the size of the Influence circle and stepping back to observe. And to smile.

And in my case? What will I discover when I take time to map out the content of these circles – Control, Influence, Concern – in my own life? I expect to identify a gap between what I want there to be and what actually is. And that gap is the entry point for me to dive into, to give further attention and care as I work with someone across the table.

Matthew Hansen

Matthew Hansen

Hi! I’m Matthew, the easy-to-remember coach and sparring partner for leaders and executives.

My passion: enabling my clients to rise up, step out, and move beyond. I stand for clarity and inspiration through questions and reflection.

Words and pictures are some of my closest friends. One differentiating fact about me: I make room for my heart and emotions in every activity – online or onsite.

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Hi! I’m Matthew, the easy-to-remember coach and sparring partner for leaders and executives.

My passion: enabling my clients to rise up, step out, and move beyond. I stand for clarity and inspiration through questions and reflection.

Words and pictures are some of my closest friends. One differentiating fact about me: I make room for my heart and emotions in every activity – online or onsite.

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