Take control and be the influence
The Last Word

Take control and be the influence

High performing leaders defend their values and beliefs and prioritise their health and wellbeing, writes Dennis Yarrington, President of the Primary Principals Association.

As leaders, we have two levers that can be empowering – the decision to control ourselves or influence others. To control is to lead and make decisions. To influence is to lead and influence the decisions of others. Knowing when and how to make decisions on control and influence is the challenge faced by principals. The impacting factor is having the confidence and competence. Confidence comes from knowing yourself, your strengths and the wisdom gained through experience. Competence is built from learning and the application of that learning.

The application of control and influence will depend on the location of the issue. We have heard about the circles of control and influence. Stephen Covey (1989) talks about circles of influence and concern. Proactive people focus on issues within their circle of control and influence. Reactive people tend to neglect those issues that are under their control and influence, and focus more on concerns, thereby reducing their circle of influence.


Sometimes we can spend too much time trying to control things in our circle of concern. This can lead to a feeling that our circle of control is small and disempowering.

When we look at the critical issue of principal health and wellbeing, leaders have the permission and the responsibility to implement a control and influence approach. A high performing leader is healthy and has a positive outlook on their wellbeing. It is not a work/life balance approach. It is about prioritising the things important in life and work. We often hear the phrase work is not life, however, many have the perception that life is work. Or is it that others project that perception, so we respond and react to the expectations and viewpoints of others (circle of concern)? These viewpoints can come from our family, friends, staff, students, parents and employers.

In the absence of vision, it is not the chaos of panic or destruction that will prevail, but the chaos of a lack of direction. It is when others project or voice their perception of what should happen, that this can become the reality of our role and function. We are operating at the direction of others. We spend our time managing directions given by others. Even our own health and wellbeing is being influenced by others. Leaders make decisions and direct. When you remove the perceptions of others by directing your role and function, you will also increase the control and influence over your health and wellbeing.

If someone acts busy and continually presents the image of busyness, then others will expect it all the time. They may even express a dislike for the life and the workload that person is prepared to accept. The physical and emotional drain of trying to please everyone every time and doing everything on a timeframe decided by others will often end in troubled days. You have to accept that you cannot please everyone and do everything. This expectation is not something that happens overnight. It happens over time and is impacted by change. Change is constant and its impact is far reaching. The longer we accept the additional task, the latest initiative, a new change process or an extra responsibility, the more we become trained to operate under the expectation, concerns and directions of others. The claim that principals have a huge workload and that this has intensified is not fake news.

What we have done is not stopped doing things or placed limitations on our time. We may even have lost the art of saying no, for fear of missing out or displeasing others. This habit can be hard to shift but to find the time, energy and focus for what matters and what is aligned to your values, the habit has to change. Saying no graciously and sending a clear message that this “new idea” or “latest initiative” is not on the agenda, the better able we are begin to direct work and find the time. As Hill (2016) points out, by piling up the to do list or taking on additional tasks, progress and achievement are impacted.


I have the same amount of time as anyone else, it is how I use it. This needs to be decided by me, not by others. I would suggest making time in your diary for you. Set aside a permanent 30-minute lunch break, a time to go home reminder, admin and email reading time. Another hint is to block out time for being present on the playground or around the school. This is different to instructional walks or leadership coaching. You will be amazed how quickly people realise you are serious about directing your time. It is then time to take back control and influence. And what a great example to your staff!

When you have a list of things to do or requests to respond to, what decides your priority? The principal’s role is complex and each of us has to make the decisions on where to spend time effectively. However, coming to those decisions is not always a simple matter. Being able to decide what is important is influenced by how we operate. Is it based on our values and beliefs or other people’s values and needs?

If people know your values and your processes for dealing with things then you are projecting with your lens, not the lens of others. This becomes your reality and you will more likely become a high performing leader. How you project will be through communication and action. Expectations need to be clearly understood, so what people expect aligns with the reality of what they experience. As a leader, you have the control and influence to lead and manage the communication in your school. A successful school with teachers working together to help students achieve their potential generally has a high performing leader. Having clear priorities and focus allows us to lead and manage the busyness and demands on our time.


The circle of influence can then be directed by this control. What matters is important. Make your health and wellbeing matter, and others will do the same. As Covey (1989) points out, we must take responsibility for our own lives. Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can become distracted by the conditions or decisions of others to the extent that we lose sight of the things within our control. Proactive people spend time on the issues and things they can do something about. Their energy is positive and enlarges the circle of control and influence. High performing leaders, I would suggest, defend their values and beliefs, and ensure their behaviours align with what matters. Be the influence by how you take control.


Dennis Yarrington has been the Principal of Harrison School, a new and expanding preschool to Year 10 school in Canberra, Australia. The school caters for 1500 students. Dennis has a Masters in Educational Leadership, Masters in Special Education and a Bachelor of Education. He has been involved in education for more than 30 years, including the positions of teacher, executive teacher, consultant and principal of a small country school, a large regional school, special school and establishing a large metropolitan P-10 school. He has been involved with concept designs for new schools in the ACT. He has presented at state, national and international conferences on leadership, school culture and implementing learning communities. Dennis was Vice-President of the Australian Government Primary Principals Association and is currently the President of the Australian Primary Principals Association. He has experience in developing leading schools in the integration of technology, 21st Century learning tools and structures and an inclusive school community. This includes teaching and learning communities and a coaching culture to improve teacher performance.


Covey, SR, 1989. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York. Simon and Shuster.
Hill, AC, 2016. Stand Out. Milton. Wiley and Sons



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