Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Growing up, I imagine that many of you were like me and you heard advice from your parents about "being careful about who you run around with" or to "choose your friends wisely". I suspect that all the various forms of that advice came from a place of wanting to see their children be good people, find success and stay out of trouble, which honestly, are pretty good goals!
Yet, as I got older, and I entered the phase of my life that involves professional relationships, I thought less about that advice and adopted the belief that I had little control over who I associated with at work because my work environment, or position with the company, dictated that for me. And it took me a long time to realize that was just a belief and did not have to be true. So, I set out to change how I thought about the group I had at work, and how I could define my "circle".
When I shifted how I thought of work relationships from out of my control to completely in my control, it changed how I show up at work. What I learned from really deciding who was in my circle was that who I work with and who is in my circle do not have to be the same groups of people. I can work with people by circumstance (they are in my department, they might be my boss or a direct report) but that does not automatically bring them into my circle. I also started to see where I had opportunities to expand my circle, or even create more than one circle to better support what I needed, and how I could contribute.
Here is how I define my circle: the network of people that I use for feedback, coaching, hard conversations and challenging ideas to gain perspective, that are willing to be both honest and supportive and help me achieve my goals through that candor and support. With that definition as my focus, it gave me the ability to rethink how I built relationships, and how I wanted to surround myself with people who help me be my best version.
As I learned how to build my circles (or what my mom would affectionately refer to as the "right crowd"!) in my work environment, I saw three key results, which directly impacted my skills as a leader and team member:
Perspective Shift: when I became intentional about those work circles, it shifted how I saw myself as part of a team, and also as a leader. It gave me the ability to step back and strip out some of the emotions and personal feelings to be able to see what was needed and changed how I showed up at work.
Engagement: by establishing work circles, I improved my engagement, and I saw the positive impact to the engagement of those I worked with, regardless of whether they were in my circle or not. When I had my circle, it gave me the space to work through the hard issues and come to the work teams with ideas and solutions that considered aspects I may not have if I was doing it on my own, or focusing solely on the individual impacts.
Vulnerability Growth: this one was one that I really found a lot of power in, but was not even aware as I started how impactful this would be on my leadership. When I engaged with my circle, I allowed myself to share the scary, hard, unspoken stuff. We've all been there - not wanting to talk about our fears or the feelings of imposter syndrome or failure. Vulnerability is a powerful experience, but one that most of us avoid at work. Learning how to show up from that space is a direct result of the circles I have built and the confidence they give me to be authentic and vulnerable with my teams and my colleagues.
While I might be less tempted to jump into a crowd that would raise my mom's eyebrow, I do think that redefining my circles is creating more fun, opening up more experiences and helping me figure out who I want to be and how I want to show up, which is really what the original advice was about, right?
As you think about your goals, and how you are showing up at work, how would defining who's in your circle change how you show up and lead?