What’s in your circle of influence?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

In an organisation as big as Queensland Health, or even when your work area is small, bringing about change can seem like something for the ‘too hard basket’ for lots of different reasons. That's why Jan Phillips, Executive Director of our Centre for Leadership Excellence, is highlighting the importance of understanding what you can control and influence, to help get the outcomes you are looking for. Over to you, Jan:

image of jan phillips

PICTURED ABOVE: Jan Phillips is the Executive Director of our Centre for Leadership Excellence.

“In his seminal 1989 book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey identified a habit that separated the great leaders from the good. It all came down to how those leaders dealt with life’s concerns. This habit is so effective and so relatable, we’ve included it in all our leadership programs. So, what is it?

Covey observed that great leaders generally ask two questions about their concerns. The first: what do I have direct control over in the situation? This refers to your own behaviour: breathing, energy, emotions, delegations, knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, language and so on. Obviously, this is where you have the most power. This is your Circle of Control.

The second question: if I can’t control the concern then what can I do to influence a positive outcome for me? Or; how can I influence others through communication skills, use of information and data, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills (such as courtesy and listening), and so on? This is your Circle of Influence.

Proactive people focus their efforts on their circles of control and influence. They work on the things they can do something about: their health, their behaviour, their children, their colleagues, staff and networks. In fact, the more time you spend in these circles, you may even find the circles grow. For example, the more you use your networks, the bigger they can get. Whereas reactive people focus their efforts in a third circle: the Circle of Concern: things over which they have little or no control or influence, such as the national debt, genetics, their upbringing, (sometimes) other people’s behaviour or reactions, and (sometimes) organisational changes or decisions they can’t influence.

Next time you find yourself “stewing” over a problem, ask yourself: is this something I can actually change or influence? If the answer is yes, and there often is at least something in a situation that you can influence, then go for it! This is a worthwhile way to use your energies. But if the answer is no, you may be better off spending your time on the things you can change.

Successful leaders don’t spend their time complaining or worrying about concerns they can’t change. They act to the extent they can and then they move on.”

The Centre for Leadership Excellence designs and delivers a range of development programs to enhance the leadership and management capabilities of Queensland Health clinicians at all stages of their career. These programs target a range of clinical and leadership cohorts and offer formalised training opportunities and career pathways. For more information visit our website.


Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, USA: Simon & Schuster.

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Last updated: 18 July 2019