36. Habit #10: Help Your Circle Lead

This page is part of the Holacracy Habits series.

In 1980, if someone told you to buy $1,000 in Apple stock, knowing what you know now, you’d be a fool to pass it up (FYI: you'd also be $400,000 richer). Of course, at the time, you probably couldn’t have appreciated the advice.

Sometimes simple advice, even unsolicited, should be taken seriously. Remember that as you read the next couple sentences. Today you are getting a new habit, and it's an important one. We call it “Help your Circle Lead.”

When companies start practicing Holacracy, people are excited about the possibilities of true distributed authority. You don’t have to wait for a boss, or for everyone to agree.

However, excitement soon meets a sober reality. Former managers may still act like managers, and calling them “Circle Leads” doesn’t actually change anything. The term may be different, but if the behaviors don't change, then it feels like the same old song and dance.

The expectation is often that the former manager should change. Stop directing. Stop using personal influence to get things done. And, of course, it’s true. But it’s not exclusively true. It’s only part of the story. Everyone else also needs to change. Stop waiting for direction. Stop assuming the former manager's opinion is a mandate.

This habit is important because the power shift is a two-way street. Both sides will need to make some changes. The “you go first, then I'll go” mentality has a huge blind spot; if both parties play this strategy, nothing happens.

So, Circle Lead or not, this habit applies to everyone. You can't point the finger without also pointing at yourself.

Yes, former managers need to learn what being a good Circle Lead is all about, but it's equally likely that Circle Leads may seem like managers simply because others still treat them that way.

How exactly do you help your Circle Lead? Here are a few ways.

When You Get an Unsolicited Opinion to Do or Not Do Something:

• Ask, “Are you making a pitch?”

• Ask, “Is that an official prioritization?”

• Or even, “Interesting opinion... I'll need to think about it.”

→ Helping your Circle Lead means assuming any shared opinions are just that (unless explicitly stated otherwise).

Circle Lead Shouldn't Take A Lot of Time (Ideally Only About 10%):

• If you notice a project listed under Circle Lead: “Just curious, why is that project under your Circle Lead role?”

• If you see them do something consistently outside of the Circle Lead's accountabilities: Propose a new role in governance describing the ongoing action says you can always capture work that is already happening, even if it's not you doing it.

→ Helping your Circle Lead means supporting the differentiation of work into clear roles.

Managing Your Own Role Constellation:

• If you don't like energizing a role, or you'd like to try another role: Be proactive. Share your intentions. Say, “I’d like to get out of this role,” or, “I'd like to try the Newsletter role.”

• If you're asked to fill a role you don't want: Turn it down flatly (i.e. “No”) or agree to take it for a specified term, which can be captured as a "focus” for the role in GlassFrog (e.g. “Until May 5th”).

→ Helping your Circle Lead means understanding your roles are voluntary and not expecting them to read your mind.

Don't Let the Circle Lead Bottleneck You:

• If you're not sure what work is most important: Explicitly ask for a prioritization.

• If you need something from an unfilled role: Just ask the Circle Lead role-filler. They automatically fill the vacant role until someone else is found.

• If the budgeting process feels like a bottleneck: Propose something to change it (e.g. a new role or policy).

→ Helping your Circle Lead means paying attention to when it's easier to scapegoat the Circle Lead rather than taking care of your needs yourself.