Why it matters who you spend your time with


Sum of the five people you spend the most time with

“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”

John Rohn (motivational speaker)

What John Rohm first said relates to the law of averages, which is the theory that the result of any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. When it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Of course, everyone is their own person, but research has shown that we’re more affected by our environment than we think. Whilst it’s natural to want to be closely surrounded by similar personalities who are supportive people and want you to succeed, it’s also necessary to have your critics. Average managers may have a preference for just positive feedback, but expert managers want critical feedback too, as via that they get pushed to improve.

Who we spend our time with influences our way of thinking, our self esteem and our decisions.

It’s common for managers to underestimate the importance of the company they keep. However bottom line: the people around you matter. You need people – whether it’s colleagues, mentors, staff, family or friends — who will challenge you and make you better, thereby raising your average or helping you maintain a high one. Many managers strive to be the smartest person in the company on every issue. But if you’re always the smartest person, you’re hurting yourself. You should aim to surround yourself with people who are better than you at certain things, people who you can also learn from too.

Great managers surround themselves with people they can learn from.

The really hard part psychologically is analyzing the people you spend time with and judging the value of the influence they have over you. Asking yourself the hard question: is the person influencing positive change in me? can seem judgmental and will often make you feel uncomfortable. However understanding their influence on your performance is critical to your success which is why you shouldn’t avoid doing it. As a leader you have too much at stake to let this go unaddressed. If someone is bringing down your average, you have to pay attention and do something about it. Not doing so may hinder your energy, vision and ultimate success.

If someone is influencing you negatively you have to do something about it.

The way you approach dealing with the negative influence people in your life have over you must be different depending on what is your relationship with that person. No-one should ever believe they can walk away from family due to the negative influence over their work performance, normally we owe them too much to justify that. So in this situation you have 2 choices. The first is to be actively inside-out and use your positive influence to change their “negative” influence over you to a constructive one. Of course this is hard work but it is necessary if you feel they are negatively influencing you. If this isn’t possible, or you don’t succeed, the second way is to channel your relationship away from sharing the negative influencing area together as usually a family member will not be negatively influencing you all area negatively rather in one or a few specific areas. Once you have identified this area you should aim to compartmentalize any remaining negative influences so they no longer influence your work attitudes in this way. Also you’d want to find new influencers to help change your attitude in this area.

With family it is necessary to be pro-active in dealing with negative influence. You can neither just accept it, nor just walk away from it.

With friends who influence you negatively, you have more options to create change (or to walk away) than you do with your family. Saying this I am not for one moment suggesting you should give up on long term friendships cause of a difference in opinion, I am rather suggesting that all friendships should evolve. Indeed I would argue a core part of true friendship is mutual positive influence. However, one friend need not influence you in all areas of your life, just influence you in one key area is enough for them to have a positive influence on your development. Like with family you may be able to control to a degree which friend’s influence you in different areas. However if you find a friend is consciously holding you back it may be a time for your friendship to move on. Normally however rather than replacing friends it is natural to add friends or acquaintances and there is nothing wrong with deliberating targeting to add those people who you feel may influence you effectively in an area you are struggling with. For example if you are struggling with apathy, befriending someone who is dynamic in pursing goals will undoubtedly have a positive influence on you by providing an example to follow to create the needed change in you.

All true friendships evolve and a core part of the most effective friendships is positive mutual influence.

With staff and colleagues things are different as you can’t usually chose all the people you work with but likewise usually you have less long term existing emotional ties and your work relationship is one most people expect to evolve so this gives some advantages you can use. You can to a degree choose to align your views and work discussions with those you feel you can learn the most from and often you can influence to some degree the teams you work in. You can also choose to keep work relationships to just work when you feel the influence of colleague is not positive over you, likewise pursuing social relationships with those you feel can influence you positively. In terms of staff, if you are in charge of recruitment, you can aim to build a team who connect to your work’s shared purpose. The skills and talents and personalities of the team should be mixed but you can choose to recruit people with shared good quality characters.

You should aim to build a team of people who can learn and develop from each other.

When you feel you are in need of more positive influences there are some important things to bear in mind. Firstly and most importantly is to recognize that often the most beneficial place to look for this new influence is outside of your current work and friendship circles. The best and most useful influence would be finding a mentor who starts with a clean view of your current situation but is committed to creating positive change in you. Secondly it is important to be open to change. As you enter new stages of life, your five people may evolve. For instance, your five people in high school were probably very different than your five now. And it’s not as though the high school friends needed to be thrown out, but their roles may have diminished in certain influence areas. Lastly it is important to put yourself under the microscope too. Be cognizant of whom you are helping, inspiring and holding to a higher standard. As when you care about how you can do a better job influencing others you create positive cycles which inspire others to do same and bring more accurate self analysis which again helps you.

When seeking new influences, look also at yourself and see how you could influence more positively.

The power of the idea “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” is not just relevant to you, it is rather a concept you should be applied directly in your management of others. As said above, you should build teams which positively influence each other. To do this you will need to analyse how staff influence each other at work. Naturally some staff will be more cheery and jolly and others more serious and  prone to more pessimistic attitudes. People naturally drift towards similar personalities but usually there will be a lot of benefit of balancing this which is where your role as team leader comes in. You can guide and influence your team members to learn more from people who have a skill or attitude they lack. You can bring this up in feedback and you can create mini teams and colleague based mentoring programmes to help your team learn from each other. So from now on think about how those around you influence you to be better and remember that there is truth in the phrase: “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time” so make sure to chose your five wisely.

Expose yourself to positive circles of influence by having 5 people in your life who challenge and push you to be better.

average of 5

Possible Exercise:

Write down the five people with whom you spend most of your time. Assign a numerical value to each person from 1 to 10 in 5 different influence areas (character building, attitudes displayed, enjoyment of life, spiritual connection, skill development etc..), and then calculate your average (with 10 being the most positive influence possible). How does each person affect your average? They don’t need to be Stephen Covey or the Dalai Lama, but they should make you better. They should elevate both your thinking and performance. It is ideal to have at least one high influencer in each area, rather than all high areas in just one area. Also think who might negatively influence you. Then plan out what you need to do to create a higher average using the information in the post above.



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