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How to Lead Change No Matter Your Job Title

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

Arthur Ashe

There’s no time like the present

In times of chaos and complexity, people naturally look to leaders to inspire action and chart the course forward. What if that leader—the person making a difference—could be you? It can (and should) be.  You don’t need an official “leadership title” to lead change. And you don’t have to wait for someone else to point you in the right direction. You are empowered with the tools to make an impact right now—whoever you are, with whatever you have, wherever you are in life, in this exact moment.

So—how to lead change no matter your job title? We have three guiding thoughts and a simple framework that will help you roll up your sleeves and get started.

Guiding Thought 1: Realistic Optimism

To begin influencing the people and world around you, be simultaneously idealistic and realistic. Leaders must champion some degree of optimism because without it, there is no rallying vision for the future (there is little evidence that a pessimist ever led people to higher ground). People need to believe in the ability to build a better world—to embrace possibility. But optimism alone is insufficient. You need to temper your optimism with a heavy dose of realism.  Acknowledge the gravity of the moment and respect the real factors that are causing tangible harm. But also know and believe—and rally people around—the idea that you can and will get to a better place.

Guiding Thought 2: Forget Perfection

Part of the problem people face during times of complexity (and even during times of relative calm) is that they are overwhelmed. They have so many looming “to-dos,” not to mention the immensity of the issues they see and care about in the world. It’s all too much. So they get stuck, afraid to get started because they don’t want to try something new unless they can do it “just right.” They are chasing perfection. But perfection is unattainable; it prevents people from leading change because instead of doing a few things imperfectly, they end up doing nothing at all. That doesn’t help anybody. Start small. Accept that you will make mistakes and stumble. It’s the only way to get things done—particularly in an increasingly dynamic and complex world.

Guiding Thought 3: Bring a “Helper’s” Mindset

The best place to start any change initiative is by bringing a “How Can I Help?” attitude to any issue of import.  Now is a time where help is badly needed. When you think about helping others, rather than centering on yourself, it’s easier to get going. And helpers beget more helpers. When around you approach tough issues with a “helper’s” mindset, you are modeling the behavior for everyone you. If you are conscious and committed, you can create an army of fellow helpers in your image. That’s how you build momentum for things that matter.

So, with these guiding thoughts in mind, how to get started? There is a simple and helpful framework inspired by Stephen Covey that we recommend.

Consider these three circles that guide your capacity for impact.

  1. Your circle of concern
  2. Your circle of influence
  3. Your circle of control

1.Your circle of concern.

Our “circle of concern” has exploded and its expansion will only continue. We have a global pandemic that has upended our entire way of life, causing unprecedented uncertainty, job loss, and transformative changes to the world of work for the foreseeable future. We have an urgent civil rights movement rightly challenging leaders to speak up and take action against the also-deadly pandemic of systemic racism. We have a looming election in the United States that underscores the larger political unrest and division in the country at large. And we have countless smaller daily issues that compound the big ones.

Overall, there are concerns involving the economy, politics, public and community health, and social justice all converging at once with no end in sight. And your baseline responsibilities as a parent, citizen, colleague, leader, friend, and community member replete with to-do lists, tasks, meetings, texts, a deluge of email etc. as the cherry on top. The list continues on ad infinitum.  Taken together, it can seem daunting. How can one person pierce through amidst an ever-ballooning circle of concern? How can YOU, personally, make a difference? This question brings us to the next circle—the circle of influence.

2. Your circle of influence.

When you begin to get bogged down in the sheer scope of the issues you face as a part of the leadership community, take a step back and examine your circle of influence. This is a smaller, and thus more manageable, circle than your titanic circle of concern. Take a look at the areas where you are realistically able to exercise your influence—your family, your workplace, your community, your friends—and ask yourself what actions you can take to lead change.

Who can you help or influence with your:

  • Time
  • Skills
  • Money
  • Expertise
  • Network
  • Organizational resources

How can you leverage the resources at your disposal to take actions that move things forward? When you’ve reflected on this (keeping in mind to “forget perfection” and bring a “helper’s mindset”) you are ready to bring those things into the next circle, your circle of Control.

3.Your circle of control.

Once you have identified tangible ways you can make an impact within your circle of Influence, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do the work. The choices we make and the actions we take are the things that lie within our “circle of control.”

This is an empowering circle because it distills all the complexity of your circle of concern—the enormity of it—into something small and approachable. It helps you wrestle it to the ground. (And  it’s where you can apply the three guiding thoughts that inform the framework.) Suddenly, the disempowering feeling of staring into a never-ending abyss becomes an empowering feeling of being able to do something (realistic optimism). And this circle doubles as a circle of accountability. You can’t use the gravity of the issues you are facing as an excuse for inaction when you are operating within your circle of control (forget perfection). The name itself, “circle of control,” talks back to your instinct for inertia, reminding you that yes, you do have a choice and you can make a difference (helper’s mindset). You are in control.

In this circle, it helps to bring an action orientation. Get really specific. Calling back to the thinking you did while considering you circle of influence, you will want to hammer out:

  • What resources (e.g., time, money, expertise, skills, network) will you use?
  • Who will you influence?
  • When will you start?

Nail it down. Then get to work! I guarantee you can and will make a positive difference and you will feel good about it.

To summarize:

  • Use the resources in your “circle of control” to lead change within in your “circle of influence”—change that you will ultimately see reflected in your “circle of concern.”
  • Lead with realistic optimism that does not diminish or obfuscate the problem(s) but does envision a brighter future.
  • Forget perfection and allow yourself the freedom to stumble forward as you take action.
  • Bring a helper’s mindset to the work, centering other people and focusing on outcomes; be a beacon to inspire others to step into their helpfulness in kind.
  • Take ACTION that addresses your circle of concern, recognizes your circle of influence, and is leverageable in your circle of control.

Above all else: Show up and help in a way that is actionable for you. That’s what true leaders do—they show up. And you can too, no matter your job title.

“The Blueprint is a rare offering with perfect timing.” – Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School
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Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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