Who’s In Your Inner Circle?

As a motivational speaker I talk about the importance of creating a strong inner circle – a master mind group, as we call it in the speaking business. It is one of the greatest secrets (only now it’s not so secret) to my success. And having such a group is invaluable, no matter what your business. So I’m going to ask you – do you have an inner circle? If you are wondering, you probably don’t. So let’s talk about how to cultivate your own inner circle.

What it’s not…
Your mother should not be in this group. I’m not knocking your mother, I’m just saying that this is not a group of friends and family members who love you no matter what and are willing to tell you what you want to  hear. This is not a hobby or a place where people talk about doing, but never actually get around to doing. And this is not therapy. If you spend most of your time talking each other off the ledge, then you have chosen the wrong inner circle. And this is not a networking group where you just throw business cards around and try to pass each other business simply because you “know a guy”. Save that for the chamber event. And your inner circle does not consist of people you choose to mentor you. It’s a two-way street. Your inner circle is no place for competition or back stabbing.

What it should be…
Your inner circle should challenge you. It should consist of people you admire and respect – people who have proven themselves to be a valuable resource. It should be people who aren’t needy, but who are driven. It should consist of people who have strengths and talents that will help you reach your dreams. It should be time well spent – where there is so much value, you can’t afford NOT to participate. It should consist of people you trust and who share your desire to help each other grow. The other members of your inner circle should want to help you as much as you want to help them. There MUST be equal give and take in your mastermind group.

Choose wisely…
I have made the mistake of joining groups too quickly based on an emotional high – only to realize I wasn’t really committed, or the group wasn’t ideal for me. It’s better to say “no” than to join a group and drop out. Be very selective in who you allow into your inner circle. That’s why it’s called the inner circle – it’s the one closest to you – to your heart and to your dreams. Honor this place. Fill it will those who are worthy.

Go outside your genre…
It’s natural to think that your inner circle should consist of people who do what you do. And while there is tremendous value in that, I have also found tremendous value in learning from those outside my genre – who see a different perspective to the same problem I have. Who show me different ways to approach my business. Sometimes when we share an industry, we become jaded by the “rules” and the way it’s always been played – to the point where we can’t see outside the box anymore. Someone from another industry can help you see outside the box. That being said – it’s also important to have people who “get it” – that understand what you do and the challenges you face.

Marry up…
Choose outside of your league. If you are the smartest one – leave. This is not the place where you coach and mentor everyone else in the group. While it feels good to be seen as the expert, I’d rather feel intimidated. That gets me further.

Be a resource…
Giving is as important, if not more so, than taking. If all you do is take advice and assistance without ever helping the others – they will start to resent you. And it is no longer a two-way street.  Sometimes we are perceived as only takers, because we are intimidated by our own gifts and strengths, and don’t feel that they are worthy of sharing. Share anyway. Give anyway. Help anyway. It’s better than taking your present and running home. Everybody has something to share – even if it’s just a creative perspective. Being a resource is something you plan, not something you wait to occur naturally. Life gets crazy and we can get so caught up in it that we forget to do things for others. Schedule your giving back just like you do anything else.

Be committed…
I’m bad about being super excited about something at first, and then losing interest. An inner circle does no good if every person is not committed. So before you form a group, make sure you are willing to commit.

Choose the structure that works best for you…
I’m not a big fan of the “let’s get on the phone once a month – the last Tuesday – and everybody gets twenty minutes – now go!” approach. When I find myself distracted by preparing for the call – I start to lose interest. Now it may work great for some people. But not for me. I also don’t like the idea of meeting in person once a month – or even once a quarter. I’m too busy. That’s ideal for some – not for me. I like the kind of inner circles that meet when needed. When one person says “it’s time” – and we pull out our calendars – find a central location – and plan to hole up for two days. It’s just the way I roll. Choose the structure that works best or you. Some people may want their inner circle to all live close – others may choose to have them live far away. It’s up to you. Having a structure to the actual meeting time is vital too. Otherwise you spend three hours chatting and never get around to getting any work done. And while factoring in some chatting time is great, if your mastermind event does not have value, then people will eventually find other things more valuable to do with their time.

Take your time
Sometimes your inner circle chooses you. This is how it happened for me. I kept joining groups that just weren’t a good fit, only to realize that an inner circle was being built in a natural way as I was meeting new people and forming relationships. You can still help each other and share information without having to make it more than it is. I spent all this time looking for a mastermind group, only to find I already had one. It just didn’t look like I thought it was going to. In fact, I don’t even think the people in my inner circle realize they are my inner circle. We’re just people helping people reach their dreams in a structure that creates itself as the need arises. I know when I need them they will be there – and when they need me, I will be there. And I don’t have the pressure of preparing for phone calls or meetings. Beautiful.

Have clear goals and boundaries that are enforced and understood…
We all have different goals and visions – even as they apply to our mastermind group. Get them out on the table. Discuss them. Write them down. Have a clear written and enforced idea of what everyone hopes to gain. And make sure you give everyone equal time.


Good luck finding your inner circle – or rather waiting for your inner circle to find you!  Perhaps you have some great ideas to add to these. Let me know!


Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson - called one of North Carolina's funniest women by Our State Magazine. Kelly lifts the spirits of audiences from coast-to-coast using humor, storytelling, and lives of the characters from Prides Hollow - Kelly's make believe small town. This unique approach to motivational speaking allows Kelly to break through communications barriers and connect directly to the audience's imagination.
Her powerful stories and wacky wit will make you laugh, remind you that you matter, show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.
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  1. If I’m not one of the motivational speakers who thinks she’s in your inner circle, don’t clue me in. As someone who has had both formal master mind groups (where I definitely married up) and outstanding inner circles, commitment is key. Which is why your advice is so wise and necessary. Don’t commit before you’ve worked your exceptional steps. Excellent Kelly!

  2. Thanks for the kick in the pants and the great distinctions Kelly! Your sage counsel has robbed me of any excuse for procrastination… I LOVE IT!

  3. Such smart advice Kelly.  I’ve been in masterminds that imploded and it just didn’t work.  If only I had your advice way back then!  This is awesome and I hope I will always be in your inner circle!!!  

  4. Thanks for the comprehensive look at masterminds or inner circles, Kelly.  This really is a GREAT article and methinks should be posted elsewhere!  Motivational speakers are famous for creating fabulous mastermind groups but I think your guidelines could even help them!


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