The people around us profoundly influence the way we live our lives—there’s no question about that. 

“You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with,” said Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker. Whether or not his math is correct, we know the core idea is true: The people we listen to, spend time with, and give our attention to form us in profound ways. 

Whether family members, friends, significant others, or coworkers, every person who has a significant presence in our lives is shaping our future selves. We pick up attitudes, habits, thoughts, and ideas from the people around us. Some people make us better and expand our vision of our future. Other people drag us down with negativity and unhelpful criticism. 

For leaders (and, really, everyone else), there are three basic types of people that belong in your inner circle.

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1. The Encourager

Especially important if you find yourself around a lot of negative people (or if you’re the one who tends to look on the dark side), the encourager is someone who has your back. They believe in you. They see your strengths and call them out. They affirm what’s good, and though they aren’t blind optimists, they can spot the silver lining on storm clouds from miles away. The encourager sees potential in every supposed failure and doesn’t jump on whiney bandwagons.

2. The Challenger

Though they can sometimes feel abrasive, challengers are crucial to personal and organizational success. They actively defy groupthink and don’t just go along with the crowd—or the boss. They challenge preconceived ideas and accepted theories; they aren’t afraid to speak their mind or question what everyone else has already agreed to. They’re the closest you’ll get to an uninvolved third party. 

Challengers raise the bar. If they’re part of your company, they’ve bought into the mission and aren’t interested in sloughing off. They’re internally motivated. They set their own high standards and hold themselves and others to those standards. They aren’t content with the status quo. They see room for improvement just about everywhere they look. When a challenger plays a meaningful role in your life, you won’t get away with just coasting or going through the motions.

3. The Wild Card

The wild card is someone who looks at the world in a way radically different from you. If you are incredibly structured and organized, they might be more of a free spirit. If you are fun-loving and goofy, they might be more straight-laced and serious. The yin to your yang, if you will. Because the wild card is so different from you, they bring unique perspectives and ideas that would probably never occur to you but have the potential to change you or your organization for the better. Everyone has blind spots. A wild card helps make up for yours. 

Although you can’t control every person who’s part of your life, you can control who has the greatest influence. Who do you seek out for advice? Who do you make lunch and coffee plans with? Who do you make an effort to listen to and learn from? If you approach relationships with intentionality, you can build a community around yourself that brings out the best in you, challenges your weaknesses, and sees your blind spots.

Take the time to consider the people around you. Do they…

  • Build you up?
  • Challenge you?
  • Weigh you down?
  • Affirm you?
  • Criticize you?

You don’t want to be surrounded only by yes-men or yes-women, and not everyone needs to challenge you. But the people around you should both encourage you and push you in ways that help you improve.

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