I have observed over time that a person operates in three mutually exclusive but connected zones in business and personal life. The three zones are control, influence, and neither control nor influence. I call the latter the punt zone. The best leaders understand which zone they are operating in during any given situation. They work to exploit that zone to their advantage.
Events you completely control include the time you get up in the morning, your attitude on any given day or situation, and the level of effort you put into your work. In such cases, there are no excuses for nonperformance. You own it. Make it yours and make it good. I estimate that I spend about 25 percent of my time in this zone, doing things that I completely control.
There are always events and situations you do not or cannot control. Consider, for example, most business meetings. Assuming there is no sole decision maker, individuals with different perspectives and agendas try to influence the meeting outcome, often in ways most advantageous to themselves. Or consider being in Congress where 435 House members and one hundred Senators try to influence each other in search of common ground.
The best thing you can do in these instances is to attempt to influence the outcome. While operating in this zone can be extremely frustrating, it is where leaders spend most of their time. I estimate that I spend 50 to 60 percent of my time in this zone.
The way to be most effective in the second zone is to present strong facts and data, along with sound, logical arguments, and common sense and reason. It can also be helpful to use storytelling to personalize a case. The alternative is to present your arguments without hard facts and with emotion to evoke a response. Without facts that can be backed up, all you have is an emotional response. I am not suggesting that you should not display emotion as you seek to persuade, just that facts and data are the foundation upon which you can utilize emotion to make your point.
It’s critically important to recognize when you are in the third zone, where you have neither control nor influence over the decision or outcome. The weather provides a good example. None of us has any control over the weather, yet we spend endless amounts of time thinking and worrying about it. The same is often true in business situations, especially in a private company where the outcomes can be determined by a single individual or a small ownership group. When you can’t control or influence a situation, you must adjust.
The zone in which you have neither control nor influence can be extremely destructive. If you spend too much time in this zone, you waste precious time and effort that should be focused on the things you can control or at least influence. If you want to be an effective leader, get out of this zone as quickly as you can and accept reality. It’s time to punt the ball and move on.
— Excerpt from Taking Stock: 10 Life and Leadership Principles from My Seat at the Table by Peter J. de Silva