The Circle Lead role is easy to do at a basic level, but hard to do well. With distributed authority, much less depends on Circle Leads than managers. Circle Leads can still make work difficult, but not without our help.
Shifting power takes a village. Which is why it’s important for everyone to practice the help-your-Lead-Link habit. It’s not one person’s shift. It’s a relationship shift. Given that, everyone needs to know what a Circle Lead does and, maybe more importantly, what a Circle Lead doesn’t do.
Here's your cheat sheet for what a Circle Lead does not do.
- Assign or direct work (i.e. tell others what to do). Instead, the Circle Lead should request projects, prioritize projects, and ask questions like “What are you prioritizing over this?” or “What’s in your way?” or “How can I help?”
- Decide for others or approve/bless/veto decisions. When it seems like others expect this, the Circle Lead should clarify, “I don’t have the authority to decide that for you.” Optionally, they could add, “…if you want to hear my opinion, I’m happy to share it, but it’s just my opinion. Use it as data to make your decision.
- ”Solve others’ tensions or problems for them. If someone presents a problem, just ask, “So, what do you need?” The Circle Lead role-filler shouldn't take the bait to heroically feel responsible for resolving the issue. Others may ask for suggestions or pathways, but they shouldn't implicitly expect the Circle Lead to take a next-action or project for a tension they feel.
- Hiring, firing, or setting compensation for circle members. Instead, the organization should have policies for these functions outside of the Circle Lead. The Circle Lead can remove someone from a role in the circle, but it’s more like a coach removing a player from a game, not the team/roster.
- A lot of work in the circle (Circle Lead is a part-time job). A Circle Lead role-filler should spend only about 10% of their time in the role. The other 90% will be in other roles. If someone is spending more than 10%, it’s likely they’re doing work that needs to be captured by proposing new roles.
Finally, remember, the Circle Lead is just one perspective from which the person filling the role may interpret data and make decisions. The role isn't the person.
Again, more often than not, they'll be speaking outside of the Circle Lead role, without any of that role's authorities. And when it's unclear, just ask, “Is this coming as Circle Lead, another role, or just you as a person?”