Maximize the strength of your influence muscle

Lacking in formal power, influence is often all you’ve got in matrix roles. Fortunately, influence isn’t something you either have or you don’t: it is a muscle you can develop.

Stephen Covey begins The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People with the concept of Circle of Influence/Circle of Concern. Here’s my interpretation of this concept and how it applies to influence in matrix roles.

In Covey’s description, among the concerns that enter your consciousness, there are some you can do something about and others you can’t. His advice is to focus on those you can influence and let the others go—don’t let them take up your time or energy. By staying mindful of you own small, short-term achievements, you can stay focused on where you can influence.

Opportunities to influence abound in matrix roles. Matrix roles are usually built around a critical initiative (in the case of project teams or cross-functional teams), critical intersections (in the case of dual-reporting relationships) or critical customers (in the case of a customer hub). Sitting at an intersection provides you with a unique vantage point—you see things that others haven’t noticed yet. You see holes, issues, decisions that need to be made, conversations that need to take place. In Covey’s terms, more enters your Circle of Concern.

All that extra matrix information entering your Circle of Concern can do funny things to your influence muscle in matrix roles. You can easily fall into one of two traps:

For some, the perspective and lack of formal power that are characteristic of matrix roles become overwhelming, and they go into victim mode, convincing themselves that they are powerless and blaming the matrix for everything. Others attempt to corral and control everything to gain comfort in the matrix, which is exhausting, dilutive and builds up resentment from the stakeholders around them. By overusing their influence they become like that billboard you see every morning on your way to work—at first it gets everyone’s attention, but eventually it just blends in with the scenery.

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Susan Finerty is the author of the recently published, Master the Matrix: 7 Essential for Getting Things Done in Complex Organizations. Since 2004, she has developed a consulting practice focused on organizational effectiveness—helping organizations design and implement change, helping teams work effectively together and coaching individuals on communication, influence and leadership. Prior to founding her consultancy, she worked in organization development positions at Baxter Healthcare and two small pharmaceutical companies. Susan has held adjunct faculty roles at Northwestern University (Leadership & Change course as part of a Masters in Medical Informatics, as well as a Leadership & Strategy course) and Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. She currently serves on Loyola University’s Women’s Leadership Advisory Board. She has a blog focused on leadership that can be found at and a blog focused on matrix management at She has a BA from Central Michigan University and an MA from Indiana University. Ms. Finerty resides in suburban Chicago with her husband and three children.