Circles of Influence and Concern

Whilst at high school both my children have been members of group accident insurance schemes. The insurance covers the medical bills in the case of injuries whilst involved in any school activities. My daughter is now going to Tshwane University (TUT) and they don’t seem to have one. I think it would be excellent for all the tertiary institutions to offer these schemes as one cannot join as an individual member. Am I likely to be able to organize this at TUT?

It is fairly unlikely. It is a large organization. Their processing of student applications is already backlogged. It is quite challenging to get to speak to real people. I and my daughter are unknown to them….

Contrast this with the my daughter’s school where I have enjoyed ready access to the principal of her school, the executive head and many other staff members. I am on a first name basis with all of them. And I know how the system works.

Circles of Concern

At the school my circle of influence was large but at the varsity it is tiny. In both places I am concerned for the education & well being of my daughter and the related costs so the circle of concern remains fairly constant in size.

Circle of concern

Circle of influence


When at the school the circle of concern is only a little larger than my influence. At TUT the gap is huge. This is where frustration comes in. In most circumstances our circle of concern is greater that our circle of influence. The bigger the gap, the greater the frustration. If you are high up in a company your influence is generally pretty high. The further down the ladder you are the less your influence. The larger the organization, the higher up you have to be to have influence.

When I worked at middle management level in a 50-employee IT company I could walk into any of the directors’ offices and be heard and often make an impact on their decisions. When I moved to the same level position at SARS with 13000+ employees I could access a few senior managers and one or two executive heads, at a push, with a formal appointment.

I often meet people who are struggling with this – “I want them to do this”, “They should do the following”, “No-one listens to me”.

We are trying to exert influence over others. As a parent of a newborn one has influence almost as great as one’s concern. As the child grows the circle of influence shrinks. But the concern remains almost as great. Our influence over other family, friends or acquaintances may be even less, depending on how much they trust and respect us. The only place where we truly have really great influence is over ourselves.

The concept of these two circles is a Stephen Covey one. Understanding it puts us in a position to do something about it. We can either grow our circle of influence, reduce our circle of concern or accept the gap with less emotion.

In some places we can grow our influence by getting more involved, better known, contributing more. At the school I had that big circle of influence because we’d been there for five years, attended many functions, volunteered to assist at school expos and contributed actively via the parents’ association for the last three years.

We can reduce some of our concern for others by reminding ourselves that they have their own path to walk, their own lessons to learn. My daughter is now 18. Most of what she experiences or gains from her varsity years has to now become her responsibility (even though we are paying for it J). She has to start flying a little way from the nest, strengthening her wings for future long distance flight.

Sometimes we can do nothing to shift the gap from either side. Then we either keep on fighting because we feel so strongly or we can relax, accept it as it is, and save our energies for another situation.

So the next time you find yourself frustrated trying to make something happen, look at your circle of concern, compare it to your circle of influence, see if you can do anything to adjust the gap. And if not, decide whether it is a battle worth fighting or not.


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