In our lives we have a lot more impact on what happens around us as well as on the people surrounding us than we care to believe. As leaders, it is important for us to understand the impact we really have which in turn helps us manage it, acknowledge it and take responsibility for it.
What kind of impact?
What do I mean when I talk about impact? Let’s start with some simple examples. Have you ever worked in a company where the boss gets really upset every time someone delivers bad news? What impact does that create in the company? Do employees feel free to share bad news, do they hold back the news or do they lie?
Have you ever worked with someone whose default reaction is negative and who always believes something will not work? How much credibility do you give this person? Even that one time they bring up a very valid and useful point, are you paying attention to what they are saying or did you tune out as soon as they started talking?
Have you ever paid close attention to the work of a meeting facilitator? Does he involve all participants in the meeting or does he speak more than anyone else? Does he let ideas emerge or does he impose his own? How do the actions of the facilitator impact the outcomes of the meeting?
As a leader, what is the impact of your leadership style on your team? Over the years, I have come to believe that teams resemble their leaders. How a leader reacts in a crisis has a definite impact on their team. Assuming that our teams simply mirror back to us our own behaviors in some way, how do we contribute to producing the behaviors from our team that annoy us the most?
How can we start noticing our impact?
As leaders, we need to be constantly aware of our impact. How well are we listening to the person we are talking to? What is the impact of our words and our listening on a conversation?
Noticing impact is something you can develop through regular practice. Consider this a muscle you may need to develop. Your lack of ability to see it now may be because you are not paying much attention to it so it is not on your radar.
Here are some easy tips to start noticing your impact:
1. Develop or deepen your presence
We live in a fast and crazy world and it is easy to get swept up in what is happening around us. How often have you been in a conversation but were not really listening to the person you were talking to? Do you notice the subtle elements of body language people where people are communicating back to you the impact you are having on them.
Before going in a meeting, take a couple of deep breaths and take the time to really feel what is going on in your body. Be aware of what is going on in your head and let some of it go. Better yet, try to schedule taking these moments multiple times in your day. It only takes five to twenty seconds!
Another way to develop your presence is through regular meditation. One nice way to start meditating is starting small and building up your resistance. Instead of launching yourself into thirty minute meditation sessions, start with five minutes for a few days and then increase gradually by five minute increments.
2. Develop your curiosity
To become more aware of the impact you have, you need to be curious and start looking for it in your day-to-day activities. When you are in a meeting, look at the people around you. How are they reacting to what is being said? Are they reacting more strongly to some people than others? Are there particular words that are generating a reaction? What is the unsaid in their body language?
At best your answers to the above will only be theories tainted by your own perceptions and understanding of the people and the situation. You should look at these theories not as truths but rather as an opportunity to have conversations to help validate your observations and fine-tune your radar.
How can we manage our impact?
The nice things about noticing and understanding the impact we have is we can begin managing it better and let our intentions drive our words and our actions.
Managing impact could mean becoming more aware of the outcomes of your actions. For example, I faced situations in my career where I needed to think twice before taking drastic actions because I felt these actions would go against messages I regularly gave to my teams. I worried about the impact on my credibility as their leader and I wanted to find a way to line up my actions with my intentions.
Managing impact could also mean becoming more aware of your choice of words in certain situations. I coached teams in highly political working environments and for me, and for me this sometimes meant I needed to make the right choice of words when answering questions from upper management. Saying things in the wrong way could cause noise, create bad perceptions or have immediate effects for the teams I was talking about.
Managing impact could also mean becoming aware of the impact you personally have on certain people. Do they respect you or not? Do they like you or not? How does their perception of you influence their experience of being around you? Once you start understanding this, you can adjust your communication style and your actions accordingly. Another possibility is having an open conversation with this person to acknowledge what is happening and together try to create space for more healthy communications.
Managing your impact is having a high level awareness of all of these things and selecting a course of action to produce the right outcome. Impact is not inherently negative and can be a useful tool to achieve results. There is an important distinction between creating impact without realizing it, which could affect your credibility and creating a more powerful impact because a clear intention guides your selected course of action.
How can we take responsibility for our impact?
Once you start noticing the impact you have you can start taking responsibility for your impact by accepting the feedback from people and acknowledging the pieces you are responsible for.
What big assumptions did you bring to a meeting or a conversation? How did these assumptions affect your responses? How did your responses affect others? Acknowledging your responsibility means you can recognize your own contribution to a situation through your words or your actions without excuses, apologizing if necessary and moving on from there.
Another way for you to take responsibility for your impact during a conversation or during a meeting is to acknowledge any unintended impact from your words and actions yourself as you see it happening. Vulnerability is a powerful way to take responsibility for your impact.
Working as a coach, I learned to be very aware of the impact I have on people or teams I work with and I learned to use this impact as part of my work. A few months ago, one of my colleagues told me jokingly that I have a gift for staying calm and looking at situations from a broader perspective. I noticed the biggest impact of the calmness I bring is how it affects my clients because no matter the situation, it eventually calms them down the longer they talk to me.
Remember, impact is neither positive nor negative. What creates a positive impact on some people creates a negative impact on others. Managing and taking responsibility for impact is about having a clear intention to guide your actions and accepting your actions will create something that you may need to clean up.
To be honest, as a coach and as a leader at work, things annoy me and affect me at times but I trained myself to be aware of the consequences of my actions and react in a measured way.
What is your impact on the people around you? Are you having the impact you would like to have? What could you do differently to have a more powerful impact in your day-to-day life?