Spheres of influence

How many people do you think you influence every day?

If you have a managerial role in a large company, you may think you have a pretty good idea of the answer to that question. You may head a department of thirty people, or of a hundred people, whose workload you dictate.

If you are a small business owner, you might employ only four people, but you exert an extraordinary amount of influence in their life.

Apart from their working conditions, what you pay them, how long their working day is, and when you allow them to take their holiday, there’s also the psychological effect you have on the people who work for you.

This can influence their personal lives in ways that you may not have even considered.

Do they go home feeling fulfilled and valued? Or frustrated and upset by your treatment of them?

By extension, you affect their families; does one employee arrive home in a foul mood, because you were in a bad temper with him, and snap at his wife and kids? Does another feel like she’s undervalued at work because you’ve taken her for granted, and then get home and expect more of the same?

Have you ever been guilty of telling an employee that you need to have a meeting with them the next day, and left them sweating on it all evening, and unable to sleep for worrying?

Do the children in the house see too little of their parents because you heap a huge workload on your workers with an unrealistic deadline?

As a co-worker, your actions at work every day can have an equally significant impact on your colleagues.

Do you say good morning to people and smile? Or do you keep your head down over your keyboard and give off a “don’t speak to me until I’ve had at least three cups of coffee” vibe?

Places I’ve worked in the past have had both kinds of people — the type who say hi, ask how you are, and pay you a compliment about something. And the type who glower from behind their computer and make you feel that you’ve done something wrong before you’ve even had time to take your coat off.

There’s no doubting which kind of colleague most of us would prefer. There’s no doubting who gets us off to a better start in our day.

Which type are you?

Outside of a corporate setting, your sphere of influence may be less immediately obvious but it’s no less real.

When I lived abroad years ago and did some TEFL teaching (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), I was very naive about how great an effect I would have on the children I taught.

It came home to me very quickly, however, when I started to teach English to two four year old Japanese boys.

Kiyoyuki and Hajime had no English whatsoever — not a single word (the same level as my Japanese). But after several weeks of encouragement and playing lots of games, they began to speak to me. I was astounded to hear that they were talking with a noticeable Geordie accent! (Geordie is the dialect of Newcastle upon Tyne, and is quite distinctive and very far from the Queen’s English).

Although I tried to tone my accent down as much as possible for my pupils’ benefit, I suspect there may be quite a lot of thirty year old Chinese, Japanese and Korean people with northern English accents…

(My 21 year old son is travelling to China in August to work with the British Council. He’ll be teaching English in a Chinese school for ten months. I’ll be warning him to listen out for his Essex accent being repeated back to him!)

Think about the influence you have over your own children, if you 
have them. Or over nephews and nieces. Or kids in your neighbourhood.

They grow up thinking that how you treat them, how you speak to them, is the norm. You are giving them the values that they carry out into the world with them, and you are influencing how they treat other people.

Of course, you can’t influence every outcome.

In the third volume of De Finibus, Cicero uses Cato the Younger to explain Stoic philosophy by likening it to shooting an arrow: an archer will take the best aim he can to shoot his target, but once the arrow leaves his bow, he is powerless.

But we can make sure our aim is true.

We can be aware of the ripples we cause when we throw a stone in the water.

Because those ripples from your sphere of influence spread further than you might ever imagine.

We can be a positive force in the world — even if it’s just by treating the people we come into contact with every day in the kindest way we can.

Don’t underestimate your influence:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night in a tent with a mosquito.” 
African Proverb

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