Would you walk into your boss’ office first thing on Monday morning to ask for a raise? Would you bring up a controversial topic at a meeting that's already run over the stop time by 45 minutes and prevented people from getting to lunch?
Would you risk your reputation by speaking out about a sensitive workplace issue that you had not thought through -- or would you subtly test your opinions in advance with just a few individuals?
On a good day, when your common sense is intact, you would not do these things. However, when caught in that "overwhelmed" place – where the inverse equation of increasing demands and shrinking resources forces you into constant reaction mode -- you might feel that there’s no other choice but to act right now. But that is a dangerous path.
You may have a new program or service you want to launch, a sensitive personnel decision you need to make, a bold new initiative you’d like others to support or a controversial change that requires a carefully coordinated execution. No matter: There are critical moments for all these goals when attitudes, motivation and decision-making powers will align to make things happen for you. I call those moments the pocket of influence.
A “pocket” is the optimal time to make your move and accomplish the priorities that matter most to you. Patiently waiting for your pocket to develop may seem like a waste of precious time that’s already in short supply. But waiting is an essential means of slowing down in order to get ahead.
When your plate of responsibilities overflows, it spreads your capacity wafer thin and escalates the temptation to act in the moment, in an effort to conserve your limited time, energy, resources and focus. Although "decisiveness" might sound good, the risks are high that your actions will be wasted because your timing is not right.
To know the difference between the two, start by understanding precisely what a solid "pocket" really is.
Inside the pocket of influence, the conditions and timing are precisely right to influence people and create the outcomes we want. A pocket of influence constitutes both a period of time and a condition where your intentional actions are more likely to affect the quality of the outcomes you get. Here are its characteristics:
- Although things may happen lightning-quick, a solid pocket gives you a pivotal moment of pause where instincts and preparation can influence your decision-making.
- The pocket you need may initially remain undefined, so you have to confidently step into the space as it develops in real time.
- Any time you are knocked out of the pocket, you are subject to the dilemma’s wide array of roadblocks -- you may still succeed but not before moving past the obstacles.
The pocket does not have to be a pivotal moment for major change. Sometimes it is just a small, incremental opening that can set us up for something bigger. Regardless of the opening's scope, it is that moment when you need to act.
Although you cannot control your circumstances, a pocket of influence helps you time the moment where your contribution can have the greatest influence on people and ideas. Once you have verified the opportunity at hand, take the leap and make your move. Here are four strategies for taking advantage of the moment when it emerges:
Don’t talk yourself off of the ledge. If the opportunity is solid and the pocket of influence is present, make the leap.
Don’t rush for fear that the pocket will break down. Pockets eventually dissolve, but trust that there is time to achieve what you want while it holds.
Don’t listen to irrelevant voices of dissent. You and those who have to be convinced matter, so limit your exposure to negative opinions outside that scope of influence.
Don’t be afraid to try again if the pocket reopens. Sometimes the first effort provides the teachable moment for what has to change in order to get it right tinghe next time.
The next time you’re stretched thin, then, avoid the temptation to just “swing for the fences.” If you decide to go big, don’t do it out of desperation. Go for it when you have a valid, well-timed opportunity to justify the risk. If you can resist the temptation to steamroll ahead and instead find your ideal pocket of influence, you’ll be rewarded by avoiding those ill-timed, wasted efforts that diluted your impact in the past.