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The Best Teams Have Impact Players — Here’s How to Create (and Manage!) Them | Best-Selling Author Liz Wiseman Tells Us How

January 19, 2023 Deana LaFauci

In 2023, what does it mean to be truly effective in your role? With increased demands and pressures, leaders are taking on a lot right now—but simply increasing your volume of work or the scope of your role doesn’t automatically make you an Impact Player.

According to best-selling author Liz Wiseman, who appeared at the 2022 Women in Leadership Institute, the most effective leaders embody five key practices to be true “Impact Players” in the workplace. By living these practices, they move beyond being simple “contributors” and take on new levels of influence.

Here’s the big difference between the two: While contributors see challenges as obstacles, hassles or inconveniences, Impact Players see challenges as opportunities to provide leadership and solutions.

And, these Impact Player leaders empower an Impact Player mindset among their teams, enabling them to take on greater responsibility and achieve at higher levels.

We sat down with Liz Wiseman at the Women in Leadership Institute to ask her some questions about how we can create Impact Players on our team—and effectively manage these Impact Players. Let’s dive in!

Q: With the “quiet quitting” trend, Gen Z professionals are saying “no” to hustle culture and are clearly stating they will do what’s expected and no more…. How do you recommend driving the value of being an Impact Player in a way that appeals to these up-and-coming generations?

A: Emphasize that being an Impact Player isn’t about working harder and feeding a toxic hustle culture, it’s about creating the greatest value for the time you spend at work.

Focus on the benefit that accrues to them (rather than to the company) when they operate like Impact Players rather than quiet quitters. Making an impact is not the same as being exhausted—tired and depleted of energy, resources and strength. In hard-charging organizations, people are pushed, prodded and often left exhausted. In high-contribution organizations, people are given an opportunity to contribute at their fullest and are in with both feet.

The difference is agency and choice. In one culture, management makes demands; in the other, people contribute freely. When leaders create conditions in which people can contribute fully and wholeheartedly, work is exhilarating. Work becomes more than a mere job or even a career; it becomes a joyful expression of our most complete selves.

Q: How do you manage an Impact Player who self-believes that the team would crumble without them?

A: You might help this team member understand the distinction between being valuable and indispensable. Yes, some team members are more valuable than others, but it’s rarely because you can’t function without them, it’s because you would never want to lose them. They not only play big, but they also help other people play bigger too.

When you position yourself as a gatekeeper or go-to person, it’s easy to become a know-it-all, greatly limiting your effectiveness in leadership roles. You can deem yourself so vital that you become a diminishing leader—someone who is smart and capable, but who shuts down the intelligence and capability of those you lead. And when staff are chronically underutilized, apathy sets in, and people lower their ambitions, doing only the minimum. These “indispensable” leaders are costly to organizations and tend to sabotage their own careers: If there’s no one strong enough on the bench to replace you, it’s hard to move on to a bigger arena.

Q: What should we do if we create conditions for people to act like Impact Players, but they keep operating like contributors?

A: Impact Player behavior is courageous and rangy—going outside the confines of their jobs or the hierarchy of their organizations. This type of behavior can be seen as “maverick” and doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Sometimes, in order to go beyond those types of boundaries, we need permission.

Managers can encourage Impact Player practices by explicitly giving permission to work this way. Think of it like a school permission slip—something that allows you to leave class or go on a field trip, something that says it’s okay to go beyond boundaries or norms so that you can be where you need to be and get the most important work done. If you have someone on your team that might need a nudge, let them know the behavior you’d like to see more of, and then give them specific and explicit permission to work this way. Let them know you’ve got them covered.

Q: Is it better to have a balance on the team of both contributors and Impact Players? Or should everyone on the team strive to be an Impact Player? If everyone on the team is an Impact Player, will that start to create competition and friction among them because they’re all trying to lead?

A: Corporate managers tend to identify and celebrate a particular superstar or deem an individual the MVP of the team. While there may only be room for a single MVP on a team, there is room for everyone to be thinking and acting with the Impact Player mindset. Instead of asking, “Who’s my MVP?” managers should ask, “How can I develop an entire team of people creating value and playing with impact?” By asking a different question, managers can build teams where every position is valued and where each person can be an Impact Player in their own right, playing different positions, possessing unique technical or functional skills, but working together, and emerging as leaders when needed.

Yes, Impact Players are ready leaders, quick to step up, but they also step back and make room for others to take the lead where they have capability. It’s a fluid model of leadership, which leaves room for everyone to lead, but at different times.

Read more from Liz on how to be an Impact Player and ways to help others see the impact of your contributions.

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.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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