RescueDigest Rules of Three: Circles of CONTROL, INFLUENCE, CONCERN

Your spheres of Control, Influence, and Concern (and the rest of the world).


Many aspiring leaders think that if they can just reach that next level, that promotion to supervisor, that promotion to shift commander, or if they can make it to the top of the organization and be chief, then finally things will run the way they want.


But any chief or executive officer will tell you,

…it takes a lot more then rank or position to get people to follow you and help achieve your vision.

Today’s Rescue Digest Rule of Three is about the circles of CONTROL, INFLUENCE, and CONCERN.

Your spheres of control, influence, concern, and the rest of the outside world.

Whether you want some degree of control over your own job or you are or aspire to be a leader or educator, the first thing you need to be able to recognize is what you can influence and what you cannot. I’m sure you know someone at your job who frequently drives themselves absolutely crazy about some issue that they cannot control. This is usually a lot less about the issue itself than the fact that they cannot control it.

This is also the heart of the advice but I’m sure you’ve heard before, that wise leaders know, “to pick their battles.”

That’s where the circles of influence come in.
At the center is the circle of control. This is where you 10 directly control the outcome of an issue. The majority of the circle falls into the category of “do it yourself”, and people are frequently tempted to “do it themselves” just so they can have more control, but this approach leads to several leadership traps. The first is that even though you may be “doing it yourself” these issues will have numerous factors outside of your direct control. The leader who thinks that if they “Do it themselves” that things will come out the way they want is showing distrust and lack of confidence in their people, and this will be reflected right back at them. The second trap is that issues of any consequence require collaboration. Having one vision isolated from outside influence very rarely works. The best outcomes are produced when input and assistance are invited from outside collaborators which, inherently, moves the project out of your direct control. Emergency service people are “go do it!” people. We want to get it done rather than talk about it. Inviting others to work with and challenge you can be frustrating but it is actually a good thing and leads us to our second circle of influence.
Outside of things that you can directly control lies the things that you can influence. When we say that communication is key to effective leadership, this is the area that we are talking about. It is crucial for a leader to be able to identify the boundary between what they can directly control and what they can influence. For leaders and educators this is also the line that  we describe using external motivation (your control) and internal motivation (your influence).

The circle of what you may be able to influence is much larger then the area of what you can directly control, so a skilled leader is one who develops abilities that are useful in both circles, and knows when to use one versus the other.

Finally, there are some issues that will be beyond your ability to directly influence in anyway, but that still may affect you and your people. This is the circle of concern, and it is much larger than just the things that you can directly control, or influence. Things in your area of concern are typically larger trends in the industry, issues that are affecting organizations similar to yours, and new and emerging items that may provide a direct threat or important opportunity to your group. The purpose of this circle is to identify the areas outside of your influence of which you still need to maintain a high level of awareness. The amount of information that falls into the circle can be overwhelming, however there are many ways through which leaders can stay in touch with these issues. Print and online publications, social media, conferences, peer networking, and mentor protégé relationships are all examples of effective ways of maintaining awareness of critical issues here.

Leaders need to take action.

In the circle of concern, identify those items that you need to pull into your circle of influence or circle of control. That is your action here. This can mean that you either bring the issue to your own organization or extend your influence out to the larger issue as it affects other organizations or your industry.
As you see, the importance of your circles of influence lies in knowing that while moving up in your organization or industry may widen your circle of influence, it usually widens your circle of control much less than you may think. Leaders who fail to recognize this often continue to try to use tools meant for their circle of control on issues outside of that circle. Rather then achieving the desired outcome, these week leaders usually experience frustration and produce only negative influence the more they try to exert their control.

Effective leaders know their circles of influence, identify what issues fall into each, and apply the appropriate leadership skills for each circle.

About romduck

Rom Duckworth is a dedicated emergency responder, author, and educator with more than thirty years of experience working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and private emergency medical services. Rom is a career fire captain and paramedic EMS Coordinator for the Ridgefield (CT) Fire Department and director of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine. Rom holds a master’s degree in public administration, is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program, and is the recipient of the NAEMT Presidential Award, American Red Cross Hero Award, Sepsis Alliance Sepsis Hero Award, and the EMS 10 Innovators Award. Rom is the author of "Duckworth on Education," as well as chapters in more than a dozen EMS, fire, rescue, and medical textbooks and over 100 published articles in fire and EMS magazines. A member of the NAEMT Board of Directors, as well as other national and international advocacy and advisory boards, Rom continues to work for the advancement of emergency services professions. Contact Rom via