When it comes to improving access, equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice, it can feel like an overwhelming task because it is a complicated and profoundly faceted challenge. I believe many people who initiate a journey to becoming a more inclusive individual find themselves flummoxed to identify where they can and should influence meaningful change.
Like any big task, we have to break it down to manageable, proximal goals. One method is to use Covey’s Circle of Influence Model, as shown by the three concentric circles in the figure below, with an added twist that aligns our will, motivation, and interest with our influence (see later figures).
Covey's Circle of Influence Model
In Stephen Covey’s seminal book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes concentric circles of control, influence, and concern. I regularly use this model as a teaching tool at the beginning of my workshops to remind people that while it is easy to point fingers at issues and lament the problem’s systemic nature, we will never make progress if we remain mired in a position of hopelessness and inaction. Teaching a different perspective empowers participants and shifts them from awareness to action.
The inner circle is what we have control over, and outside of what we can control, there is much that we can influence. For example, we control our emotions, reactions, words, and behaviors. Depending on our role and work, we may control or influence policies, agendas, curriculum, projects, culture, hiring, and other people.
Outside of that is the circle of concern. These are the things that we care about but cannot control or influence in any way. It doesn’t make them any less important, but if we can’t make a difference in those areas, we needn’t spin our wheels or burn our energy focused on them.
As we move through our lives and careers, these circles can expand and shrink, but the takeaway remains the same. We progress when we focus on what we can control and influence rather than what we cannot.
Is influence enough?
A popular saying in my family growing up exclaimed, “Don’t be a back-row Baptist.” BRBs had loads of strong opinions about how things should be done but didn’t want to participate in the work. The phrase meant, don’t be the person who simply shows up, sits on the back row, bellows complaints, and yet chooses not to participate in the labor.
While some people, unfortunately, don’t see any issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, many more are kind of like back-row Baptists when it comes to equity work. They see a problem and have opinions, but instead of not wanting to be called upon to do the work, they feel too perplexed by the challenge’s enormity and inadequate to lead change.
I see this as people tangled in the briar of their concerns.
With a shift in mindset, they could find themselves in a field ripe with opportunities to influence and lead change.
Influence isn’t enough. Where our will overlaps with our influence is where we must focus our energies to take meaningful action.
So, where does your intersect with your influence?
The result isn't incrementalism.
Incrementalism is the belief that change ought to be brought about in small, discrete elements rather than in abrupt strokes such as revolutions or uprisings. As an individual, it can often feel like we are but a drop in the ocean.
However, the more of us working on addressing racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc., within our circles of influence, the more collective power we have to make the broad, sweeping changes required to reach true equality and justice. Thus, as we focus on things within our circles of influence, we will independently and collectively expand our transformation capacity to make systemic change.
What do we do?
- In the context of your environment (classroom, team, department, office, campus, community, etc.), when it comes to diversity, equity, equality, inclusion, and systemic change, what are the conditions you can control?
- Where do you have influence?
- What are areas of concern, but are outside of your influence?
- What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in improving diversity, equity, inclusion, or striving for social justice and systemic change?
- What are some of the specific changes you’d like to see that are, at least in part, within your circle of influence?
- If you haven’t taken steps towards these changes, what’s keeping you from moving forward?
- Who are other people or organizations who are working on these changes? How could you connect and collaborate with them?
- What are the resources that you and others need to accomplish the change you’d like to see?
- What would it take for you to create the resources you need?
- Identify an action item for yourself and reflect on how you can find support, encouragement, and accountability.