Working within your circle of influence.

Earlier today Dave asked me a question within the comments of my Don’t let Reinvention intimidate you post. I started to answer Dave there, but this is too important, and I’d like to share it with all of you who may be reading.

This was Dave’s comment:

Aloha Rosa,

I have this friend, lets call him Bob. Bob works for a national company that has around one-hundred locations throughout the USA. At his location, Bob answers to a general manager. On more than one occasion this gm has clenched his fists, scrunched his face and declared to no one in particular (but making sure plenty are around)…how much he hates change.

The gm answers to a regional vp who answers to two or three more people before getting to the president. This lap-dog crowd dances to the hypnotic hysteria of Wall Street flute players. Consequently the gm is in heaven, for the corporate lap-dogs have taken their eye off the ball and blindly stare at the scoreboard in centerfield – the one that pulsates their name in harmony with the flute players from Mars.

Oh, the corporate lap-dogs realize change is necessary. So they fiddle with the corporate logo or they change a national vendor or they suddlenly get the desire to become warm, fuzzy and ethical – right about the time the Sarbanes-Oxley train pulls into town. This means nothing to Bob. Bob knows change must come at the company’s point of delivery – where customer meets employee.

Maybe Bob has chosen the wrong job. Problem is, while most of his industry doesn’t have to answer to Wall Street, they still refuse (or do not possess the competency) to address the true point of delivery.

So Bob can have it all going. He knows his strengths, he always tries to do the right thing and he is connected with his personal values. Heck, Bob even told me something must be wrong with him – because that is what the gurus tell him. They say when one believes the problem lies outside of their selves, it is best to introspect because the problem must really lie within.

Actually, I have directed Bob towards The 8th Habit, because I believe it addresses this very problem. Problem is Bob says a lot of these authors live in a fairy tale world. They are not out there living the agonizing career life that he is.

I don’t know Rosa. What about Bob?

Aloha Dave,

Just from what you’ve written here, I don’t think that Bob can truly “have it all going.” The biggest clue is that he’s frustrated and not happy.

-“He knows his strengths” — does he work within them, every single day, to produce something he feels is worthwhile? There’s some truth to that “ignorance is bliss” adage, for the worse kind of frustration is when you know what your strengths are, but you also realize (or feel in your gut) that you aren’t using them, or you are using them, but not for the right purpose.

-“He always tries to do the right thing” — trying is not necessarily doing, is it.

-“He is connected with his personal values” — and are those personal values in alignment with those of the company? That’s the critical connection, and it does sound like that’s what’s missing.

This sentence you wrote concerns me for Bob’s sake:

“Bob even told me something must be wrong with him – because that is what the gurus tell him. They say when one believes the problem lies outside of their selves, it is best to introspect because the problem must really lie within.”

I hope he stops listening to those “gurus” whoever they are, because that goes back to the old (and spirit-damaging) X Theory that people are basically the problem and need to be fixed. On the contrary, I believe that Bob is the solution, and that he has what it takes.

Like Bob, I don’t care for authors or gurus who present solutions that are not in the context of the “real world.” However there are universal, historically-proven principles (like values, and I believe, the Gallup strengths management revolution) that don’t change, and yet we keep fighting them.

The gurus, authors, mentors and coaches that have helped me personally in my own struggles as a manager, are those who got me to change my own thinking — they were catalysts, but ultimately the answer I was looking for came from me, and were based in my own experiences. That is always my goal in my coaching, and why I ask people to please not introduce me as a consultant: I don’t work with you to give you an answer, otherwise you’ll need me around forever. My goal is to help you grow in your own, very self-enabling, intuitively correct thinking: I coach managers to get better at finding their own answers, and then being brave enough to take action on them.

I have not read The 8th Habit yet, and you need to clue me into why you feel this is a possible answer for Bob. However another Coveyism comes to mind for me: Covey talks about the “circle of influence” we all have, and that’s a concept that helps me put things in context for the managers I coach who are like Bob. It’s hard to effect change on things that are outside our circle of influence. However when we work within it first, and we are able to effect good change there, we achieve a momentum that helps us enlarge our circle. Said another way, the circle grows with our own capacity for handling more.

In my Hawaiian values jargon — it’s frustrating, hard, and unrealistic to expect you can effect change (or any reinvention) that’s simply not your Kuleana – yet. The size and “location” of your circle of influence is determined by your Ho‘ohana.

I’ve found that this circle of influence has been a helpful way for many managers to determine if they are in the right job or not, because it is possible in the short term, to be in the right circle of influence for you in the wrong company: Your strengths are used, and your values are not compromised because you are effective. You aren’t on Wall Street, but you are at that customer point of delivery, and the customer is the real boss. We see this happen all the time: that a certain store or department location does things right while they are under the radar, and then suddenly corporate office sits up and takes notice because profits are flowing. That’s what business is supposed to do; make a profit.

On a much smaller scale, think of a waitress in a neighborhood restaurant who works there because she knows the food is good and priced well. She loves her customers, serves them well and thoroughly enjoys doing so. Now her restaurant is actually part of a much larger, national chain, but as far as she’s concerned, that well priced, good food is coming from that one kitchen and nowhere else. She loves the people she works with, and she feels they are all working together to make the restaurant both successful and a good place to work. She is thriving in her circle of influence.

When you are effective you feel you are challenged and growing to meet that challenge. As your circle grows — and if you have been effective within it, it will — you will be able to effect the reinvention you want to tackle that was previously outside the circle. If not, that’s when it’s time to move on. And it’s a move that won’t be that difficult, because the reason that old circle got too confining for you is that you outgrew it. You now have quality experiences and hence have created a proven track record all prospective employers will look for.

Growing your circle of influence does not necessarily equate to taking a promotion or getting into management: it means developing your own strengths from grade a usage, to grade b usage, then grade c usage, and so forth. Let’s go back to that waitress:

She is Mea Ho‘okipa, and her key strengths are that she is a Relator and an Achiever. Her customers come back repeatedly and she can handle a good many of them at the same time (the restaurant is full, and makes money) and they tip her well (and so does she). The worse possible thing that can happen here is that she gets promoted to floor supervisor and stops serving them directly.

If this sounds as simple as “right place, right time,” it is. The hard part is always coming to terms with what you perceive is “right,” and that brings us back to values.

God forbid that I become one of those authors living “in a fairy tale world” so please continue to challenge me if you feel I’ve somehow missed the boat on this. I know many heads were nodding out there in reading your story, and the very reason I have chosen coaching is because it is largely a one-on-one practice, where I can help guide a manager through his or her own minefield until they feel confident enough to do it without me. My last word of encouragement to you Dave, would be to continue coaching Bob if you feel you can and you want to: sounds like he may already have chosen you, for he’s trusted you with the sincerity and truth of what he faces.

Does Bob like to read? Until I can write my own one day :-) there is another book I can recommend to managers and leaders who might want to consider how coaching works, but want to test the waters themselves first in a more affordable way. It’s called Your Coach [In a Book] and it was written by Robert Hargrove, the author of Masterful Coaching, and Michael Renaud. I found it was very insightful and helpful, and it employs story after story about those real-world decisions, bothersome issues, and dilemmas managers and leaders face.

Coaching FAQ is here.
MWA Book Excerpt on Ho‘ohana.

Mahalo nui Dave for posing the questions for us to talk story on.

Comments

  1. says

    Aloha Rosa
    Bob does not get to utilize his strengths. That is a good point.
    My slip on the wording of “try to do the right thing” In what I can gather Bob does do the right thing. This might not be the case in laying it on the line with the boss, but there is no talking to his boss. This guy is the most brilliant manipulator the world has seen. There might be only a handful of people who have his number. To the outside world he is a smooth successful bizman.
    Bob is not even sure what values his company stands for. There is a plaque on the wall. It means nothing to Bob. The only person who has seen the corporate side of his world is his boss. This guy shields Bob and the others from corporate and vice-a-versa. As for his boss, he has values. Hitler had values.
    Both Bob and I might not understand..
    “The gurus, authors, mentors and coaches that have helped me personally in my own struggles as a manager, are those who got me to change my own thinking.”
    This IS what Bob is insinuating the gurus tell him. The problem lies within himself, he must change his own thinking.
    The 8th Habit is to Discover your voice and help others to discover theirs. The process of discovering… is to follow the 7 Habits…which boils down to change your way of thinking, now that I think of it.
    I will continue to coach Bob. This seems like something I must just face up to and go on…it has truly been the story of my life.
    ********************************************************
    I hope members of our community are still with me down here. I need to comment on this remark:
    “That is always my goal in my coaching, and why I ask people to please not introduce me as a consultant: I don’t work with you to give you an answer, otherwise you’ll need me around forever. My goal is to help you grow in your own, very self-enabling, intuitively correct thinking: I coach managers to get better at finding their own answers, and then being brave enough to take action on them.”
    I cannot tell you how refreshing this comment is Rosa! I have seen people in your “line” of work, don’t know how else to put it, just stick the IV shunt in and leave it in. Stop by once a month, take a little more blood.
    This is one of the reasons I tell people about you and MWA. Folks out there need to know there are people like you who truly want to help…for all the right reasons.

  2. says

    Ah Dave, there’s the rub, it all comes back to the values-hence-behavior of Bob’s boss not being a match with Bob’s values, and Bob coming to grips with the truth about why he continues to work for the guy at all. What are the handcuffs that shackle him there?
    Whether the boss’s values are good values or Hitler-like values is actually not relevant — the fact of the matter is that Bob and he are not a value-match. Values are like your DNA: short of Bob taking his boss through some radical life-changing experience, his values are not going to change.
    Bob’s got to be the one to decide how much longer he’s going to play the sacrificial lamb: he needs to create his own destiny versus just letting stuff happen to him.
    Managers (i.e. bosses) have a huge effect on the people they manage — in a nutshell, that’s the entire underlying wake-up call I wanted Managing with Aloha to make, for there are too many bosses out there like Bob’s who are either clueless about how much they effect people, or they don’t care, and they deserve to have their entire staff stage a mutiny.
    However, life isn’t always fair, and unfortunately, good does not always prevail, or as quickly as it should before people get hurt (Hitler comes back to mind). Waiting for Bob’s boss’s own superior (the clueless leader…) to “see the light,” get more involved and/or replace the guy may never happen, especially if he’s as smooth a manipulator as you say.
    The situation you describe is actually pretty common: “the company” can be far removed from the very people who work for them, under their corporate banner. In a normal day, the worker bee never sees the queen – in fact, he might not get an audience from her in his entire lifetime. For these worker bees, the hive boss IS the hive, and it will remain that way until that boss leaves on his own or gets replaced. Fact of life.
    The reality of work is that employees must judge the quality of their job based on the quality of their boss (and his or her values). A big part of that judgment call is if they care about the company itself enough (i.e. their ho‘ohana is a match for the company mission) to, in the words of a popular TV show, outwit, outplay, and outlast that boss. How long are they willing to wait, how much are they willing to sacrifice, and what will it cost them?
    If the answers are, “no longer,” “no more,” and “too much” it is time for them to move on. As I see it, they cannot compromise their own personal values if they are to sleep easy at night.
    Mahalo nui for your vote of confidence in me Dave, and I truly hope Bob will muster up the bravery he needs to make some good choices for himself.
    Rosa