I was chatting about this with someone yesterday and made a total hash of recounting it, so I thought I’d do a quick blog post to clarify my thoughts.
Now imagine that inside your circle of influence is a smaller circle of responsibility. That's the things you're directly responsible for doing; the area outside of responsibility and inside of influence is what you can talk others into doing. ;]
With that in mind, here’s a good framework (from a USN SSBN commander by way of Covey’s book, “The 8th Habit”) for how to approach an issue which you believe you know how to resolve depending on your level of influence and/or responsibility:
1. Stand Mute
If it's completely outside of your circle of influence, stand mute. There's no constructive course you can pursue. Instead, consider whether or not you're genuinely concerned; if you are, channel your energies into expanding your circle of influence to include issues like this in the future.
2. Ask Questions
If it's just outside the edge of your circle of influence (inside or outside), ask questions which tend to confirm your assumptions about the issue. You'll learn things, you may provide focus and insight, and you might get invited to the solution. You'll likely expand your influence in the direction of the issue at hand ... as long as your questions are pertinent and well thought out.
3. Offer A Solution
If it's just inside the edge of your circle of influence, propose a solution. This isn’t a lot different than asking questions as noted above; rather than putting your solution up bit by bit, you’re presenting it as a holistic thing, complete with reasoning. It’s really just a change from participant to potential thought leader.
4. State Intent
If the issue lies just outside your circle of responsibility but well within your circle of influence and you believe that you can take or coordinate positive action, make a plan and present it as your intent to the person or people who have direct responsibility for the issue. This provides them insight into your proposed actions complete with a plan and the opportunity to question underlying assumptions, impact of your proposed actions, etc. They might put forth an alternative proposal, suggest modifications to your plan, or instantly agree and ask you to carry out your intent.
5. Take Action And Report Immediately
If the issue’s at the outside edge of your circle of responsibility, you have a solution which you firmly believe in, and there’s an impact to others, take action and report that action immediately. This allows them to see the impact of your action, judge the effectiveness of your solution, and will increase your circle of influence and responsibility over time as you stack up more and more successes.
6. Take Action and Report Periodically
If the issue’s clearly inside your circle of responsibility and there’s not an immediate impact to others, take action and report that action periodically (e.g. at a weekly checkin or in a weekly summary blog post, hint hint ;-) . This again exposes the impact of your action and, with continued successes, will grow your influence and responsibility.
7. Take Action
For those things clearly in the center of your circle of responsibility, just do it. You’re good at it, we already know it (that’s why we made you responsible for it =), and we trust you completely. Go\!
How do you know where the boundaries of your influence and responsibility lie? Your responsibilities should be clear (and if they’re not, you need to sit your boss down and make that so). As to influence, that’s a bit of an art and a bit of intuition; mostly you judge it by thinking about who’s coming to you with what issues, questions, and concerns.