Habit one in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is ‘Be Proactive.’ Covey describes it as recognizing we get to choose how we will respond to the events in our lives. In his discussion of the habit, he draws a distinction between those things which concern us versus those things we can directly influence. He claims that effective people focus on what they can influence, creating forward momentum that actually increases their circle of influence over time. Reactive people, on the other hand, focus on the concerns which lie outside their control, putting them on the defensive and creating a victim mentality.

I think there is a solid business application to this principle. As leaders, we need to be proactively focused on what we can control. Market forces, technological changes, government regulations, what a customer does, etc., are all areas of concern, but none are within our control. Certainly, we need to be aware of the influence things outside our control might have on our business, but day in and day out, we need to focus ourselves and our employees on what we can control.

For example, your sales team cannot control whether a potential customer will make a purchase. But they can control things like the number of times they reach out, the quality of their research, and their willingness to dig into a potential customer’s pain points and connect those points to potential solutions.

I came out of an industry (education) that was heavily impacted by government regulations, regulations that changed annually. Part of our success came from our COO’s laser focus on what we could control. Rather than worry about what the government might do—worries I witnessed our competitors focus on and needlessly waste energy on—he kept the team focused on what we were doing—i.e., what we could control—in light of the changing regulations.

Effective companies, just like effective individuals, focus on what they can control.