I’ve learned about a very complex pressing issue at a local organization. As I’ve talked with a wide cross-section of people, and this conversation has been going on for over a decade, there is one theme that continues to resonate.

Based on what I’ve seen, heard and encountered, the organization is well-functioning and at the top of its class in its industry. I’m very impressed with the people I’ve met who work there. They are big picture people who see how their mission impacts their daily work as leaders. That is a rare commodity in today’s business world.

Working within this complex organization is a group of professionals who provide services on a contractual basis. Over the years, I’ve been told that the relationship between the organization and these professionals is not healthy.

My Circle of Impact model provides an ideal guide to understanding the real nature of the problem and how the model can be applied to resolve complex issues simply. 

Applying the Circle of Impact Process to Solve Problems

In the Circle of Impact process, when Ideas, Relationships, and Structure are aligned, individuals (and organizations) are best positioned to take personal initiative and create an impact that makes a positive difference that matters. When any one of these dimensions is misaligned, creating a conflict, transition or challenge, then consideration of the other two dimensions can be applied to finding a resolution. Most often, overcoming the perceptions you have attached to the dimensions is the initial hurdle.

Ed Brenegar - Circle of Impact


In the scenario about professional services providers working within a larger complex organizational system, the problem as it is continually portrayed to me is a Relationship problem. However, if you really listen to what they are saying, other perceptions emerge.

The organization and the professional group do not share the same perception of their mission.

A mission is an Idea that becomes the rationale for how you organize your business. If you have competing conceptions about your mission, then you will have conflict about how you Structure your organization.
The Relationship problem, therefore, is also an Idea and an Organizational Structure problem.

Based on what I’ve learned, the differences in perception become less distinct when viewed from the perspective of what their shared Impact should be. They both want high-quality service provided to their clients.  If this Idea is too general a Vision, or not clear in terms of how they organize their work and relationships to achieve it, then the problems will persist.

For the professional services providers work within the structure of the larger organization, the issue is not simply financial and operational. Those agreements are more easily resolved. The deeper issues are ones of Values and Mission (Purpose).

How do you resolve such a complicated scenario?

It starts with their Relationships. The organization and the professional service providers must establish mutual respect and trust, and work from there. If there is no respect, then mistrust festers and spreads. If there is no trust, then division also grows.

If respect and trust are missing, then the shared values that matter will erode.

While every issue has a relational, conceptual and organizational component to it, resolution begins with resolving the relationship question.

How Relationships Are Key to Leadership That Solves Problems

There are three types of relationships in an organization.

  • The Traditional Hierarchy of Accountability
  • The Collaborative Relationship of Work Teams
  • The Social Network of Friends and Co-workers

Each type of relationship needs respect, trust and shared values to function well.

It is important, then, that leaders who are responsible for developing the structure of the organization do so in such a way that issues can get resolved at the point where the problem occurs.

A clear measure of the relational strength of an organization is the degree to which team members farthest removed from the executive suite feel free to build collaborative relationships to address and resolve conflicts and organizational structure problems.

When issues get passed up the chain of command that should be resolved by the parties at the point of the problem, it is a sign that there is a problem in how each level of the organization is relating and communicating with one another.

When managers and supervisors are trained and equipped to develop the problem-solving capacity of the people who are accountable to them, then the relational strength of the organization grows. With that development, obstacles and inefficiencies are removed.

All leadership begins with the individual initiative. This statement is the core principle of the Circle of Impact model.

Too often, the latitude to take initiative in relationships at work to solve problems is missing in organizations. Developing individual initiative capacity in the various relationships of people within organizations strengthens it.

To achieve this, two strategic realities need to be recognized.

  • To foster leadership at the bottom of the organizational chart, there must be leadership at the top.
  • Leadership initiative is led by middle managers and supervisors who become leadership developers through their relationship with those with whom they share responsibility.

This is the future of organizational leadership.

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