It struck me when writing about John Maxwell’s Law of the Inner Circle that actually all of us have inner circles in one form or another.

arms-teamworkWhether we are intentional or not about it is another matter, but all of us have people whose opinions and views we take more seriously than others. Even if we claim not to need other people, there will be significant others who have moulded our thinking and perspective. And, unless we make a conscious decision otherwise, they will continue to do so.

They become the voices or the framework through which we view life and make decisions. They can also limit or expand the expectations we have on ourselves or our abilities.

Over the years having met and mixed with a wide variety of people from different cultures and backgrounds I am struck by how powerful this can be.

So for example, you meet some people for the very first time and within a few minutes you find yourself sharing openly and honestly some of the deepest and most meaningful issues of your life. Decisions are made quickly and almost effortlessly. Things happen and real progress is made.

By contrast you enter some other circles consistently over many years and it is markedly apparent as to how you are still complete strangers to each other, afraid of vulnerability or showing any weakness. There are invisible walls and barriers that seem to separate and cause distance between you. Decisions are slow or never made. You really do feel stuck.

I always remember some wise advice given to me by Ram Gidoomal, a senior Christian leader more than 20 years ago. He described to me 3 kinds of people:

VIP – the very inspiring or influential people. By this he meant those who expand your thinking and horizons. You savour the things they say and their insights and observations are enormously helpful and perceptive. Their words match their actions and after spending time with them you find yourself wanting to be a better person.

VNP – the very nice people. These people are very pleasant to be around, but they are not growing or developing themselves. They are content with where they are in life (this is in the broader sense from social and emotional to spiritual and even financial). It is good to be content with where you are, but such people have no hunger to grow and develop further. They have no mission in life to have a greater impact or benefit on others. They are comfortable to be around, but they will hold you back from your God given potential. (For more on this see The Law of the Lid).

VDP – the very draining people. These people are black holes of need. No matter how much you give or try to help them it is never enough. Such people need help and support, but sadly they more likely than not will be in the same predicament 10 or even 20 years from now. By all means sympathise and be supportive to them, but be very careful about letting your thinking be moulded by them.

The law of the Inner Circle states that my potential in life is determined by those who are closest to me.

Either my inner circle is building me up or it is dragging me down. There is no other alternative. It really is as stark a choice as that. A poem from John Maxwell’s childhood puts it simply, but profoundly:

There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Just two kinds of people, no more, I say.
Not the good and the bad, for ’tis well understood
That the good are half-bad and the bad are half-good.
No! The two kinds of people on earth I mean
Are the people who lift and the people who lean.
There are two kinds of people on earth today;
Just two kinds, no more, I say.
Not the sinner and the saint, for it’s well understood,
The good are half bad, and the bad are half good.
No; the two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift and the people who lean.

You only want lifters in your inner circle. They should add value to you personally. Far from being a selfish act this is one of the best things you can do for yourself and the people you care about. The reason is that if such people have a negative effect they will seriously hinder your ability to lead well which in turn can hurt the people you care about or the organisation you are a part of.

I am not advocating that you completely withdraw from the leaners (although in some cases that may be wholly appropriate), but that you take away from them the role they have in your life in making decisions or seeking guidance. That is not always easy, but it is the only path to growth.

To give an example, if you have been a smoker and decide to give up, you have to be very careful about your relationships with your former smoking friends. Directly or indirectly they will try to pull you back to your former lifestyle as by your decision you will be challenging their view of the world.

What are your thoughts on these different types of people? It would be helpful to have your insights and reflections.