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What Stephen Covey taught me – The Circle of Influence

Posted by Joanne on August 3, 2012 Comments (2)

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
                        ~Reinhold Niebuhr

As human beings, we have the capacity to be proactive. We can focus on the things that we can actually do something about, or we can add to the stress in our lives by worrying and fretting over the things we have no control over.

Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduces the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over.

The Circle of Influence is the area that we have control over.

Covey tells us that in life our Circle of Influence is most often smaller than the Circle of Concern.  We can’t control the economy or a company merger. As we react, we tend to focus on the Circle of Concern, which depletes our energy, because we have no control over it. The energy focused on the Circle of Concern is negative. If you focus on the Circle of Concern and neglect the Circle of Influence, eventually the Circle of Influence will get smaller. This will add to feelings of stress and helplessness, because you cannot change anything in the Circle of Concern.

Proactive people focus on the Circle of Influence, which is the area we have control over and we can act upon. When we do this, the Circle of Influence gets bigger. When you act on your Circle of Influence you are able to reduce stress levels and increase happiness, because you can initiate and influence change.  

During my leadership program, participants share experiences of where they are spending wasted energy worrying about things they have no control over and then brainstorm ways in which they move towards proactively influencing and acting upon the things they can change. Consider an employee working for a company that is going through a merger. If that employee spends time worrying about whether he will lose his job, he will be wasting his energy and sink into a negative spiral of helplessness over something he has no control over. However, if he talks to his manager to learn how he might provide value to the new organization, ensure his skills and knowledge (and resume) are up-to-date, and increase his networking, he will be proactively directing his actions towards things he can influence and build positive energy at the same time.

This concept is easy to remember and is a great tool to direct our energy and actions in meaningful ways on things we do have control over. Are you spending your time in the Circle of Concern worrying about things you have no control over? What can you do today to expand the Circle of Influence to build more positive energy in your life and at work?

Related posts:  What Stephen Covey taught me – The Power Pause


  1. Stephen had a tremendous impact not only on my life, but through me, on the lives of those I had the privilege to lead. It started indirectly, when, after a period of reflection and tough going I discovered the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The overall approach of private victory then public victory, describing our growth as proceeding from dependence through independence to interdependence struck me as incredibly simple yet powerful. I applied what I learned to my life immediately.

    Later, when assigned to command the USS Santa Fe, I applied his 7 Habits approach at the organizational level. I gave every officer and chief who reported a copy of his book. We would have seminars discussing the various habits and the application of those habits made Santa Fe a more effective submarine.

    It turned out that Stephen was doing some work for the navy and learned about what we were doing on Santa Fe. He expressed an interest in riding the ship and the navy set it up. We were scheduled to conduct a one-day transit from the port of Lahaina on the neighboring island of Maui back to Pearl Harbor. This would be a perfect time for him to ride. It was also when we had set up a family member cruise and were expecting about 80 family members to ride as well.

    I was apprehensive about having both events at the same time. I thought the presence of the family members would present a distorted picture of how Santa Fe operated. Further, I wasn’t sure how I’d appropriately apportion my time between running Santa Fe, Stephen, and the family members.

    It worked out perfectly! Stephen was working on a book for families and held a special talk just for the family members. His message was that they played a critically important role in the success of the ship and placed high value on family. It was a win-win.

    Stephen spent the entire day onboard, talking with crew members, looking through the periscope and driving the ship. He was tremendously interested in the people, and how they worked together. Everyone he talked to felt better about themselves afterward, especially me.

    He remained interested in how Santa Fe did and was happy to hear of the subsequent successes the ship had, including the selection of 9 of the officers for submarine command. I was honored that he included USS Santa Fe in his book, The Eight Habit, and agreed to write the foreword to Turn the Ship Around!

    Comment by David Marquet — August 9, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  2. Thank you David, for sharing your story about Stephen Covey. The more I read the stories of people who have met him, the more I feel that my perception of him, through reading his books is the same. One of my favourite books is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families” so it was great to hear that you met him when he was writing that book. Perhaps some of the stories shared in his book are from his discussions with crewmembers and their families on your ship! His book is now marked up and re-read and often gives me a lump in my throat. I remember one section of the book referred to a man (and it could easily be a woman) who came home and instead of finding fault and being critical about the shoes lying in the hallway or the lights left on, consciously made a choice to come in the door with a smile and a joyful “I’m home!” And he made sure to give his spouse and kids a hug and kiss, no matter what his day had been like, or how frustrated he might have been with the shoes left in the hallway. Stephen Covey said that by doing that he becomes a conscious, and positive force in his family. He says that “Love is a Verb” and “Love is a Commitment” and our actions, behaviours, and words show that on a daily basis. Yes, we each have the power to make choices and build positive relationships at home and at work. Love that! Thank you for reading my blog post and for sharing your story.

    Comment by Joanne Royce — August 10, 2012 @ 9:32 am

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 Joanne Royce

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