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If you spend enough time with me, you’ll hear a couple of my mantras when it comes to women emerging into higher levels of leadership.  First, each of us owns our leadership identity, and second, it’s our responsibility to take action to develop the skills and behaviors necessary to grow on our leadership journey.

Building strategic relationships is one of the best skills you can develop in creating your leadership identity.  And if part of your leadership journey is a C-level or board-level position within an organization, I would take that a step further into developing the skills required to access the inner circles of influence.

How is the Inner Circle defined?

  • The inner circle is where key decisions are made.  It’s being in the room and at the table when they are made, plus being able to influence outcomes. Those in the inner circle identify which decisions actually get made and set the agenda; they are part of that process from the beginning.
  • Those in the inner circle are “in the know” before things happen.   They have access to the power of other influencers to get things accomplished and they leverage the power of “who you know.”
  • The inner circle is the “one phone call” group.  One phone call and you can get things done.
  • Those in the inner circle are often sought for counsel and they typically effect significant change.

What are some strategies for breaking into inner circles of influence?

  • Hone your craft and become excellent at what you do. You’ll find yourself needing to step out of what’s comfortable and go that extra mile for excellence.
  • Attend events where influential people will likely be – socializing is important for softening barriers to the inner circle.
  • Become a connector for others.  This positions you as a resource and these connections are often reciprocated.
  • Establish sponsorship, not just mentorship.  Mentors provide guidance and support; they point you in the right direction.  Sponsors do all of that, plus open specific and significant doors for you to opportunities you may not have otherwise.   Those in the inner circles of influence usually have at least one sponsor who has opened those doors.  Sometimes you are rewarded with a seat at the table, and then you have to earn your power to influence the decisions that are made.
  • Gauge risk versus readiness.  The reality is that there are still too few women in those inner circles of influence, so those that are there have a spotlight on them.  It’s important to take calculated risks, and be willing to leverage opportunities.  Weigh your decisions from where you want to be 1 year, 3 years, 5 years from now, and not necessarily where you are today.  But do balance that against your actual readiness.  Your mentors and sponsors are excellent resources for helping to gauge what other personal development you may need.

Above all remember this is a decision and a growth process.  When you decide that being a part of inner circles of influence is on your leadership path and you develop the skills and connections necessary, you’re also creating your unique voice – one that can have a significant impact on your company and your community.


Visit for more information about custom training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group.  Amy Franko also works with national companies and organizations on their emerging women leader programs, teaching concepts from the international best-sellers Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and See Jane Lead.

© 2013 Impact Instruction Group

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