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Are You an Impact Player at Work? Maybe – If You Do These 5 Things | An Exclusive Interview with Best-Selling Author Liz Wiseman
Every day, we face challenges at work and in our personal lives, from unclear roles to unforeseen obstacles and moving targets. How we think about these challenges—and how we respond to them—defines our contributions and our leadership.
Best-selling author Liz Wiseman is focused on empowering women to understand how they can maximize their impact in the workplace and move from a “contributor” mindset to being true “Impact Players.”
Liz, who appeared at the 2022 Women in Leadership Institute™ (WIL) before 3,000+ women leaders from top organizations, is the author of the New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.
She met with attendees at the Institute to unpack her Impact Player methodology with us, and we are sharing key insights from her talk here.
Let’s dive in with an overview of Liz’s 5 practices of Impact Players. These practices differentiate impact play from simple “contributorship.” Understanding their value can empower women leaders to step into new levels of influence in the workplace.
Here’s why this is so important: Linkage’s research on the advancement of women leaders in the workplace points to the critical need for women leaders to influence others around them. The “Influential” competency is about delivering a message—an ask—in a way that leads others to listen and act. Influential leaders have an impact on important decisions made within their organizations, and they skillfully complement formal authority with effective personal influence. Influential leaders aren’t transactional—they are relational, and they use their ability to influence to move the needle and enact progress.
That’s where being an Impact Player comes in. By applying Liz’s approach, women leaders can conserve their energy for the highest-impact behaviors and drive outsized impact for their teams and their organizations.
While contributors see challenges as obstacles, hassles or inconveniences, Impact Players see challenges as opportunities to provide leadership and solutions.
Consider the issue of unclear roles in the workplace. Here’s a common scenario: You are assigned to work on a project or perhaps you inherit a project from another department or someone who has left the organization. You want to do a good job and deliver, but you haven’t been given scope, budget, objectives or goals—or you haven’t been given an executive sponsor or advocate. A contributor sees this lack of clarity as a reason to look for the leadership they require. In short, they sit and wait for directions.
An Impact Player sees this challenge completely differently. For Impact Players, the lack of clarity is an opportunity to provide leadership. Critically, Liz gives us the next step in this instance: Impact Players “step up and step back.” They make decisions and give clarity; they empower team members to get the work done; and then they step back from the situation.
“You can use the Impact Players framework to assess which mindsets and practices are your current strengths and which need purposeful strengthening,” said Liz. “You can also share this framework with your team or your leadership and ask them: ‘Where do you see me working as an Impact Player, and in which aspects of my work do you see me working in Contributor mode?’”
Liz’s Impact Players assessment is available online, and it can help you understand if you are making the impact you’d like and pinpoint where you may need to take action to increase your influence.
Let’s dive into an exclusive Q&A with Liz and further unpack how you can supercharge your leadership and become an Impact Player in the workplace.
Q: What if you face resistance from colleagues when you’re stepping up, i.e., you’re labeled as a “know it all” or “too involved”?
A: Impact Players take charge of situations that lack leadership. When they see an opportunity for improvement, they step up, volunteering to lead long before higher-ups in the organization ask them to do so.
However, you can easily step on people’s toes if you don’t secure some form of implicit permission to lead. As an informal leader, you need people to opt in. Think of this as a contracting process in which the emergent leader offers leadership and improvement, and in exchange their colleagues provide permission and support. This permission-seeking might involve explicitly seeking a manager’s approval to activate a new project, but it might be subtler, more like raising one’s hand in a classroom, getting a nod of approval before speaking out. The would-be leader raises their hand to let the group know: I see a better way; I’m willing to lead, will you support me?
Q: How can a Contributor elevate themselves to become an Impact Player without burning themselves out?
A: There is a danger that some people may interpret the Impact Player mindset as a justification for working harder or longer or asking others to do the same, which will likely lead to burnout. However, you don’t necessarily need to work harder to increase your impact. In fact, the opposite may be true: people who have impact and influence tend to want to work harder because their work is fulfilling.
If you want to contribute at your fullest, don’t just work harder; rather, strive to do work that is more valuable, be more influential, and maximize your impact. Be willing to let go of projects that aren’t delivering value so you can channel your energy where it will have its greatest impact. You can also help foster a light environment that lowers stress and increases the joy of work, both of which reduce burnout. If you have a strict limit on the amount of time you can spend working, work as diligently as possible during that time. When you combine these two approaches, you will avoid burning out because your work will give you energy, not sap it.
Q: How do you contribute to the agenda when you are acting as an Impact Player?
A: Working on urgent issues is part of contributing to the agenda. I like to think of the agenda as the W.I.N.—What’s Important Now. Putting out fires makes it possible for the organization to focus on the most important work. But you may need to remind both yourself and your colleagues of the enabling nature of your firefighting work. One way to do this is to periodically remind your boss (or your colleagues) what you’ve been handling so that they don’t have to worry about it!
Q: How can I maintain myself as an Impact Player without losing the momentum?
A: Unless a new approach yields better results, we will eventually revert to old, trusted assumptions and patterns of behavior, and lose momentum. When you test out the Impact Player practices, think of it as a scientific experiment. Try taking the smallest viable action and then collecting evidence to see if the Impact Player behaviors create greater value. Collecting evidence helps you build momentum. By taking small steps, you collect small wins, which catalyzes a cycle of success.
Empowering women to new leadership heights. The Women in Leadership Institute brings together 3,000+ women leaders in person in Orlando, Florida, and virtually each year—and registration is now open for the 2023 conference November 13–16, 2023.
Women in Leadership Institute™
NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
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