How to Take Ownership of Your Life and Leadership

AdVance Leadership » How to Take Ownership of Your Life and Leadership

Welcome to Friday 411, Issue #002. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll advance your leadership to secure authority over your own life.

Reading Time: 3.5 Minutes

1 Insight

Your life can be divided into three layers of responsibility. Once you understand where everything that affects your life fits, you secure control over your own life.

As a leader, it’s common to feel like everything is out of your control. You may encounter:

  • Endless streams of communication
  • The market shifting unexpectedly
  • Current employees abandoning you
  • An inability to find new hires
  • Family and business challenges vying for your attention
  • A pandemic stalling out the planet

In March 2020, we, like the rest of the world, felt as if we had lost authority over our own lives. We helplessly watched our plans disappear from the calendar— our children’s education and activities, our 20th anniversary trip to Hawaii. Most alarming, an almost daily phone call would announce another canceled conference. The bulk of our forecasted 2020 revenue depended on conference keynotes. We sat facing each other in our living room asking the question, “What are we going to do?”

The Wrong Question

We soon realized we had started with the wrong question. We couldn’t answer “What are we GOING to do” until we answered, “What CAN we do?”

Beginning with “What are we going to do” leads to overestimating your scope of control and authority, which results in feeling more out of control.

  • You feel the least in control when you exert emotional energy attempting to control areas you have little or no authority over.
  • You feel the most in control when you exert actionable energy improving areas you have the power to rectify.

Starting with the question, “what can I do?” anchors you in the realm of reality and away from fantastical impossibilities. This simple question leads you toward the attainable.

Three Layers of Responsibility

Your life can be divided into three layers of responsibility. Once you understand where everything that affects your life fits, you secure control over your own life.

At the center is your Sphere of Ownership.

Ownership encompasses your attitude, beliefs, behaviors, choices, actions, habits, perceptions, and stories you tell yourself. This is the only area of your life you have complete control and authority over.

One of the most profound examples of the idea of ownership is from the life and writing of Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, based on his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, Viktor writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

No matter the circumstance, there is always at least one thing you can do. The freedom of choosing your own attitude provides an outlet for actionable energy in every situation.

The middle ring is your Ring of Influence.

Here, you have some level of control and authority.

As a parent, you can set rules and model values, but you ultimately can’t control the decisions your children make. As a manager, you can guide, teach and train, but whether anyone chooses to follow you is not up to you.

In the outer ring, you have the Ring of Subordination.

Here, you have no control or authority.

  • You cannot control the weather.
  • You do not have a direct voice in government decisions.
  • You’re not writing tax laws.
  • You’re not setting company policies.
  • You have little power over a global pandemic.

It’s a waste of time staying upset about things in your ring of subordination. Yet, people spend a lot of emotional energy mired down here. Sometimes it’s easier expending frustration over things we don’t have to DO anything about. Action requires more effort than emotion.

Gaining control over your life requires action. If you stay emotionally shackled to your ring of subordination, unable to DO anything, you’ll never unleash the chains of perceived helplessness.

1 Action

When seized by the sensation of being out of control, ask yourself the question “What CAN I do?”

Here’s how:

  • Use the Responsibility Diagram to distinguish what falls into your areas of ownership, influence, and subordination.
  • Anything that you list in your rings of influence or subordination, re-ask the questions, “What CAN I do about this? What, if anything, can I own in this?”
  • Once you’ve listed your options in your Sphere of Ownership, then you can decide what you’re going to do. Sometimes, you’ll find the only thing you can do is shift your attitude.

In March of 2020, as the world shut down around us, we walked through this exercise, scribbling out three circles on a pad of paper. We, like many of you, realized the survival of our business and welfare demanded a hard, fast pivot. Conference keynote cancellations fell into our ring of subordination. There was nothing we could do to change that reality. We had ownership of our ability to quickly accept and respond to this reality. Our business exists to serve people. But for that period in history, we had to recreate a people-centric model to exist in a world without direct human interaction.

By peeling away the layers of subordination and influence and revealing our ownership core, we were able to regain control during an uncomfortable, unfamiliar season. This 1 insight and 1 three-step action can secure a sense of authority over your own life.


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