Change is happening to us all the time.

Thinking how different the 21st Century is compared to the 20th and 19th Century, I am amazed how much has changed in a relatively short period of time.

We each need to make the mental shift from seeing change as random, disruptive chaos to understanding change as a pattern with a logic that we can tap into and take advantage of. Once we start thinking in terms of transition, we begin to see how a process of development can unfold to our benefit. With a transition mindset, we begin to think more opportunistically about the future. 

The reality is today we’ve never had a greater need for clarity of thought, being present in our relationships, and genuine in our leadership. To see your life and work with a transition mindset is to see how it is a system or a network of connections between various aspects of how we live, what we do and where we do it.

The problem is learning how to align our ideas, relationships, and social/organizational structures so that they work together, the Three Dimensions of Leadership. The key to pulling all of this together is being intentional about the connecting ideas that link the dimensions: values, purpose, vision, and impact. Each of these ideas needs to be clearly defined so that they can be effectively applied.

The framework for aligning the Three Dimension of Leadership with the connecting ideas of values, purpose, and vision to create impact is the Circle of Impact.

circle of impact process

Our experience tends to be fragmented. The Circle of Impact provides a way to see the whole of an organization, the whole of the work you do, and the whole of the change happening around us and through our actions.

Much has changed in the way we live, work and interact in a short span of time. The ideas, relationships, and structures shaping the 21st Century are not the same that guided progress in the 20th and 19th Centuries. However, I believe that the principles which people share, and the way the Circle of Impact can be applied to them, have not changed.

Ideas: The Importance of Clarity

Today, ideas matter more than ever. In the past, the communities and places of work were fairly homogeneous and not as culturally diverse as today. Now we need to be very clear about our values and purpose and be able to effectively communicate them in visual and tangible ways.

In the past, you could measure your business by the bottom-line, and have a pretty good idea about whether you were succeeding. Today, if you are not clear about the impact you are creating, the purpose of your business or organization seems vague. Impact is the difference that matters and distinguishes you from others in the same industry. The core meaning of impact is the change you are seeking to create, and how you know when you have.

Lastly, clarity of ideas is:

  • Having a vision that is clear about what each person brings to the mission of the organization, and by this I mean, understanding what is their potential contribution
  • Knowing how each person’s potential contribution is aligned with the operating structure to produce impact
  • Each member of the organization being able to articulate that vision from their own place within the organization. Same vision, different expressions of it.

Relationships: The Importance of Being Present

Today, the person who is prejudiced, condescending and exclusive toward people and other cultures is viewed as backward, narrow and insecure. Openness and inclusion are important behaviors that leaders and their organizations need to exhibit.

This mindset, so to speak, is really just an entry level attitude toward relationships. At the core, what made for a healthy relationship two hundred years ago, does so today.

I once wrote:

“Diplomacy is the practice of respect applied in places of diverse cultures. It is the ability of one person to be able to empathize with another person, even though their cultural, ethnic and philosophical backgrounds are not similar…

This type of respect is a form of humility that places the dignity of the other person ahead of one’s own prerogatives. It is what I see missing in much of the social and civic interaction that takes place in our society.”

This aspect of relationships has always been true. The difference today is that it has to be treated as one of the strategic initiatives of the business. How the business relates to the person and the culture will have a huge impact on how well they do.

In addition, the importance of respect, honor, dignity, and trust are now functioning within a social environment where technology mediates our relationships more and more. This is one of the most significant changes of the past two hundred years. And as one of my Facebook friends noted:

“Instant responses, less thought – little or no opportunity to convey intent except by emoticons that have become part of the language. This is a change so significant that I think it’s as big as the printing press being developed …”

This means that the quality of your relationships is really a matter of the person you are. Your character, integrity, and values matter more than ever because you only have a moment to convey the depth of who you are. If you come across as shallow, narcissistic, not empathetic, or distracted, then you may never have a chance to change that impression.

The impact of all this change in relationships and social context is that you must constantly be present with your best-self if you hope to build relationships for the long term. To be present means that your first inclination is not to tell your story, but to ask questions to identify someone else’s story. When you know who they are and what they value, then, with genuine integrity, you can tell your story.

You are able to do this when you truly approach each person with dignity, respect, and trust.

Structures: The Importance of Leadership

A major change in the past two hundred years is how businesses organize themselves. In the past, the industrial model depended upon a standardized, formal structure. Today, the complexity of doing business has placed a greater burden on workers to be problem-solvers and initiative-takers. The expectation that workers take greater responsibility is changing what it means to be an employee. In effect, this shift is a change in what is leadership.

In the past, leadership was a position, a title, which often was personalized into a heroic narrative of the chief executive. Today leadership has become the impact that each person has within the business structure. It depends upon their ability to communicate, problem-solve, relate well to others and contribute in ways beyond their job description. In effect, the skills of leadership are now the skills of an entrepreneur and are needed by everyone within the structure.

With this shift, a company where more and more employees have the capacity to take initiative to lead, the quicker the company will adapt to changing situations with customers and in their industry.

The Difference that Matters

Here are five actions you can take.

  1. Be clear about the Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose/Mission, Vision, and Impact. Develop an elevator speech for each, so that when the moment arises you have something clear to say.
  1. Develop ideas in conversation. Identify three to five people with whom you work, and often have lunch and share your ideas with them. You may want to share this post with them, and see where the conversation goes. The idea is to learn through collaborative reflection.
  1. Volunteer with an organization that serves people in need. I have found that working with people who have lived through or are living in hard times provides me perspective on myself. I learned to appreciate what I have. I gained the ability to respect those whom I may not have been able to see any value. The resiliency and adaptability of people who are in need gift us a window into our own capacity to change.
  1. Develop a set of questions to ask everyone you meet. This is how the Circle of Impact was developed. I asked questions of everyone I met. Once the Circle became clear, I began to use this as a framework for my discussions with people. Now it is printed on my business card.

What sparks your curiosity? Do this is to take initiative because your desire is to make a difference.

  1. Begin slowly to take initiative. Yes, leadership is an initiative-taking function. But not all organizations have embraced this idea. In fact, many executives think that relinquishing control over employee freedom to lead ends with chaos and confusion. It certainly can if there are poor communication and coordination between members of a team or department. Understand, therefore, that leadership in this perspective needs alignment between the Three Dimensions of Leadership – Ideas, Relationships, and Structure.

Your Three Actions That Matter

The last thing to say is that while change over the past two centuries has been great, the core attitudes and behaviors that make for effective leadership remain the same as always. The primary difference is the changes in the social and organizational contexts that resulted from technological innovation and the growth of life and work on a global scale.

It is simple. Just three things to do.

  1. Care for people. Regardless of who they are. Whoever you meet each day, care for them. Treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion. I don’t mean take over their lives. I mean provide them a relationship that enables them to become a better person.
  1. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself who you are going to be. Act with integrity towards your own values and goals, so you can help others do the same.
  1. Live opportunistically in the moment. As a planner, I can confidently say that a long-range plan is more often a closed door than an open path. The best plan is knowing who you are, what values matter, and the impact that you want to achieve. The process is discovered daily in the moment-to-moment interactions that we have with people. This is where real freedom is found.