A boy and his father were walking through the woods together. They came across a large log, blocking their path. The boy turned to his father and said, ‘Do you think I can lift this log?’ The father replied, ‘If you use all your strength, absolutely you can.’ The boy rolled up his sleeves, bent his knees, and got his hands under the log. He heaved with every ounce of strength he had. But the log wouldn’t budge. He tried over and over until at last, exhausted and breathless, he gave up.
He looked at his dad in frustration. ‘You said I could lift it!’ His dad smiled. ‘I told you, you could lift it if you used all your strength. You didn’t ask me for help.’
So the boy asked for help and together they lifted the log out of their path.
It is hard to be a leader today and getting harder. Like the boy in this story, it takes guts, courage, belief and every ounce of strength you have to be successful and influential. It requires leaders to have a strong sense of resilience to keep fighting the good fight. That is why it is important to surround yourself with the right people and ask for help when you need it. A successful sporting team is dependant on the key players on the field, the players on the bench, the coaching staff and everyone behind the scenes. The players can’t do it alone. Nor can business leaders.
Your strength is held by you and the people who march alongside you. When you feel isolated, overwhelmed, uncertain or unconfident perhaps it is simply because you aren’t using all your strength. A huge part of the strength of a leader is who you surround yourself with and who you invite into what I call your Circle of Influence (CoI).
A CoI is made up of those you trust, confide in and speak to on a regular basis. What will make a COI is the quality of people in it. You need to ensure it has people who will challenge the status quo, who are positive and insightful, people who have various areas of expertise and experience, and who can add to both your strengths as a leader and your business strategy.
Importantly, your CoI should include people that you can share challenges with that are generally unspoken and un-broadcast. Challenges like cash flow problems, confidence problems, people problems, solvency issues and personal problems. I have individuals who I draw on, and I have small groups I attend. Regardless of how I use my CoI, they are all quality people who raise my standards as a leader. And they are one of the most crucial parts of my success. As Seth Godin says, ‘All of us are smarter than any one of us.’
As a leader, you need to have a strong mix of people with different and similar skills and experiences to you, those who are successful and ahead of you in your journey, those you learn from, those you confide in, and those who support you and believe in you in your circle of influence. These are people who you can brainstorm with, lean on, support, challenge and lament with from time to time. A high-functioning CoI has many uses and benefits for the business leader, including:
- keeping abreast of industry and market trends
- sourcing new ideas, insights and innovation
- exchanging emotional support from others who understand
- prospering in the senior ranks of leadership
- networking for strategic business alliances
- getting contacts for future career opportunities.
We are living in a superficial world, an environment that demands us to be on top of our game, to paint the picture that we’re OK even when we’re not. By its very nature, the role of a leader is to instil confidence in their team members and those around them and to steady the ship.
So where do you go to have genuine conversations and talk through what’s really bothering you in a safe environment that won’t affect your career progression or tarnish your reputation?
By surrounding yourself with people who ‘get it’ and support you, you feel validated and not so alone. This can also build confidence, ‘lighten your load’ and increase your motivation.
As Edmund Lee once said, ‘Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.’
We’re fast approaching the end of another year and it can be a great time to start reflecting on who is in your circle of influence? Are they right for you and your future? Do they support you? Do you add value for them? Or are they continually taking from you? You can’t do it alone, that’s becoming more and more evident. So make sure you have the right people around you or you could end up feeling very, very alone.