Molecular Leadership: Circles of Influence

Over the past year, I’ve come to adopt the basic premise that leadership is influence. Leaders, by definition, lead. People follow when they align themselves with a common vision and common values.

Each person is limited in the number of people they can influence, and each person has different circles of influence. The circles of influence vary for many reasons–sometimes because of shared interests, physical proximity, work, or age. You have a unique set of people with whom you can interact and reach. I cannot reach your people, and you cannot reach my people. However, I can reach you, and you can reach your people. And you can reach me, and I can reach my people.

This is the same model that Jesus used with His disciples. He had twelve close disciples, three of whom were very close. He entrusted those disciples to spread His teaching and message. While Jesus spent time interacting with the crowds, I believe His greater work was developing His twelve disciples.

To demonstrate this model in the context of an organization, I would like to illustrate a simple software company. A company like this may have four main divisions:

  1. Sales — doing market research, making sales, etc.
  2. Development — building the software
  3. Quality Assurance — making sure software meets quality requirements
  4. Support — relating with clients and ensuring customer satisfaction

The CEO does not interact with everyone in the company. Rather, he relates with key people from each department, and he relies on them to spread his vision, ideology, and values to their own teams.

To illustrate this graphically, the organization may look like this:

Note that this structure doesn’t carry hierarchy as much as circles of influence. The CEO focuses on influencing and developing his team leads, and they focus on spreading his work to their own teams.

This is a model that can scale, as long as each link is willing to be influenced and is able to spread that influence. However, it requires a large amount of trust, because as soon as a link is broken, it isolates an entire team from the rest of the organization. The closer the link is to the core of the organization, the greater the impact and fallout.

In a healthy organization, position will match influence. The people with the most teachability and influence in the team will be the ones entrusted to carry that vision. They will be given positions to reflect that.

However, leadership positions do not guarantee influence, nor does influence require a leadership position. How can we close that gap when position and influence have completely drifted apart? Tomorrow we will look at ways to heal a broken organization.


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