The Breakthrough Stephen Covey Habit Product Managers Can Practice to Radically Increase Their OKR Delivery Effectiveness

Learn the foundational mindset to expand your influence and impact things you thought were out of your control

Expanding our impact by narrowing our focus. Photo by Pixabay:

It was one of those life-defining moments.

The realization hit me with such massive force that I would never look at the world the same way again.

“It just wasn’t my fault,” I repeated over and over. “There’s nothing I can do. This place is messed up. I’ve been dealt a “bad” hand here.”

Working as a sports director at an exclusive Arizona desert club, I was sitting there, rationalizing to my manager, Dan, about how hard my life was, why I simply couldn’t get members involved and supporting our programs. I came up with every excuse possible, ranting on and on.

Dan politely waited for me to finish, and then calmly observed “You know, Mike, as I sit here listening to you talk, it seems everything you’re saying is focused on how you’re simply at the mercy of all these things that are being “done” to you, and how you’re a helpless victim.”

The flash of insight

At that moment, I became aware that I’d been given a precious gift, and my life was divided between what came before that moment, and everything that came after.

Suddenly, through this calm observation, I saw for the first time that I was more focused on complaining about and finding fault with my situation than in doing something about it.

The carefully-crafted model of the world I was holding in my head, the things I held to be true, were holding me back from becoming who I could be.

The first of Seven Habits

I’m not sure Dan was aware of the depth of the change he’d just sparked, but after our conversation, he encouraged me to read Stephen Covey’s foundational book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It has remained a durable roadmap to walking a considerate, humane, and purpose-driven path that remains a touchstone in my life to this day.

The path to proactivity

Over time, with ongoing study, and despite setbacks, I gradually came to understand how my life-changing experience was directly related to Covey’s foundational first habit, “Be Proactive.”

I’ve seen how the “Seven Habits” legacy continues to bring benefits for others, as well, finding new applications, helping people develop personal leadership across teams engaged in collaborative software delivery. While researching a recent piece about a team’s path to proactivity through leading Key Results, I was struck how my own life-changing insight could be similarly applicable to working with the Objectives and Key Results framework.

Using the metaphor of circles, Covey describes a powerful mental model Product Managers and their teams can use to understand and exercise “agency,” expanding their ability to have an impact in seemingly daunting situations.

Understanding our Circles

Covey’s breakthrough maps our current level of proactivity based on how we look at our world and our circumstances.

To illustrate his point, Covey described three concentric circles of focus:

The Circle of Concern

This first circle represents the big problems and questions of life people worry about.

These could encompass anything from their immediate circumstances such as family, friends, work, to things far out of their control, like the threat of nuclear war, global population, world economies, climate change, the imminent arrival of aliens, and more.

Our Circle of Concern — What do you focus on?

Some people have large “Circles of Concern,” encompassing an endless range of worries and concerns. Others tend to focus on a much smaller set. Where do we focus our minds? People who spend a great deal of time watching 24-hour news cycles or the endless scrolling streams of their social feeds tend to match their “Circles of Concern” with whatever the news tells them they need to obsess about, and take offense to.

In any case, it’s important to recognize we all have a “Circle of Concern,” get a sense of how far it extends, and what kinds of things lie within them.

The Circle of Control

Covey’s next circle represents the much smaller set of things within our Circle of Concern that we can directly control:

The Circle of Control — Most people can only control a small subset of the things they worry about

As this image nicely illustrates, the Circle of Control lays out the area granted us, through a combination of our country, our birth, our family, our roles, skills, and capabilities, what we can actually control. For most people, we can usually only control a tiny subset of the large number of things we tend to worry about and fixate on throughout the day.

While we might be tempted to worry about an imminent asteroid strike, the more we focus on things we can control, like being good to our families, communities, and ourselves, the more likely to have a positive impact on others’ and our own overall happiness.

The Circle of Influence

Adding a third circle to our map, in between the other two, allows us to visualize an area of indirect control, what Covey calls our Circle of Influence:

The Circle of Influence allows us to have a bigger impact on the world than just what we directly control.

The Circle of Influence represents those things we can impact through our jobs, making the most of our families, teams, organizations, as well as our own personal knowledge, skills, relationship networks, and experience. Equally important is our ability to persuade, to influence without authority, to positively impact the behaviors of others in the service of some constructive goal on our behalf to do things outside of our normal Circle of Control.

Covey’s groundbreaking insight explains that simply by reducing the scope of our Circle of Concern, while at the same time expanding our skills, knowledge, relationships, and refocusing on the things we can control, we can actually expand our Circle of Influence:

Expanding our Circle of Influence

Reclaiming power and agency in Objectives and Key Results

How does this relate to Objectives and Key Results?

As we saw in the last article with the Yogana “Red” team, they started by being handed high-level lagging Business Impact Goals:

This jump from the “Red” team’s activities to delivering bottom-line, lagging business goals made progress hard to achieve

It was only through mapping the user journey, and focusing on team-level leading Key Results within their power to deliver that allowed them to focus on the things they could control, thereby expanding their Circle of Influence, and increasing their likelihood of learning on the path to delivering:

The Red Team’s path to expanding their Circle of Influence came through seeing how their work fit into the bigger picture


Unleashing the power of agency through understanding our Circles of Concern and Control, and expanding our Circle of Influence through continuous learning and developing community, connection and relationships allows us to multiply our impact and create greater change than we ever thought possible.


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