What Makes an Impact Player?  Part II

April 13, 2022

This is the second and final article in which I cover a must-read book on my shelf that I recommend to my clients when coaching leadership development.  

Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives worldwide. She’s also the author of the NY Times bestselling book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. 

Wiseman recently published Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. It’s a fantastic read and one I’ve enjoyed discussing with others. I recently listened to her appearance on Ryan Hawk’s podcast and wanted to share a few of the insights I found most interesting. 

Framing high-impact teams

Framing organizations as high-impact teams can be helpful, because like a high-performing team, all the emphasis is on what people produce. People want to contribute to their fullest and do impactful work. When we frame the process as building a high-impact team, we explicitly make room for multiple impact players. You can actually have a team on which everyone has different roles and capabilities, everyone contributes to their fullest, and everyone does work that matters while raising the level of play for the rest of the team.

Mindsets of impact players

If you want to build a high-impact team, hire people who already have the mindsets of impact players. Wiseman’s book includes a chart that lists the mindsets and behaviors of impact players, not all of which are easy to develop. Wiseman queried the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches, a group of the top coaches in the world, to obtain their input on which of these are the least and most coachable mindsets and behaviors, based on the coaches’ real world experience. Some attitudes are fairly easy to teach and develop. Others aren't. 

This is Wiseman’s favorite question: Do you see ambiguity and uncertainty as a threat, or do you see it as an opportunity? She relishes chaotic, ambiguous situations because they present the opportunity to impose structure and clarity. While uncertainty can be unpleasant, it allows us to create essential frameworks that can determine the long-term success or failure of an organization. Having a positive view of uncertainty is probably the number one attribute when looking for new hires. Jim Collins states this best: "Because if you can’t predict the 'What,' and I promise you can’t predict the 'What,' then your ultimate hedge against the uncertainty of what is coming next is to have the people who can adapt to whatever might be coming. All we know is that it will be a surprise and then another surprise and then another surprise. This is just life."

Another essential attribute of impact players is their internal locus of control. It took me a while to learn one piece of unsolicited career advice Wiseman offers — you have a lot more power than you think you have in almost every situation. By assuming I have control over myself, I can influence almost any situation in a positive way. Even when sitting across the table from really powerful and intimidating people.

Another tendency of impact players? They make work light. They bring levity and fun to the work, make hard things easier by not creating or indulging in political drama, and are fun and easy to work with. As important as this attribute is, it’s not easily coachable.

Transition from being an Impact Player to a Multiplier

When you work like an impact player, you’re seen as a leader because you're already leading even without formal authority. The transition from impact player to leader can be challenging. You have to realize that it's no longer about your performance; it’s about the performance of your team. Your challenge now becomes applying your impact player mindset to the challenge of developing a whole team of impact players. 

Wiseman describes her own transition from impact player to leading multiplier. She describes the epiphany she had after six months as a leader. Her boss came by her office and said “Liz, I just want to let you know, as a new manager, that as far as I’m concerned you can sit in your office all day and read novels as long as your team is performing well”. Wiseman was perplexed — why would she sit and read novels? Wouldn’t that amount to laziness on her part? Then the thrust of his argument dawned on her: being a manager meant that her primary goal was no longer her own productivity, but the collective impact and output of her team. This transition can be rough for some people, but once you grasp the similarity between the work of impact players and multipliers, you realize how congruent the mindsets are. They’re like two sides of a coin.

Multipliers balance safety and stretch

As leaders, it’s easy to fall prey to the assumption that we need to protect our team from all kinds of discomfort — interpersonal, political, and developmental. We’re tempted to create a cozy microcosm in which our employees are never required to have difficult conversations, learn to understand different perspectives, or challenge themselves to take on new tasks and responsibilities. This approach is somewhat like the overprotective parent — we shield our employees from challenges with the goal of enabling them to do the work, but end up preventing them from building the muscle required to do difficult things. This can create false perceptions of the organization, or even cause co-workers to feel weak in comparison to their manager. 

If this protective mode sounds familiar to you — and unfortunately, it’s something I did at times when we were crazy busy — it’s worth considering how your approach might be diminishing the creativity and productivity of your team. Multipliers boils down the problem in this way: great leaders bring out the best in others by creating an environment that’s equal parts safety and stretch. The goal is to create an inclusive environment in which all colleagues feel psychologically secure enough to be stretched — to get uncomfortable in healthy ways, to make mistakes and learn from them. If we try too hard to protect our people, we deny them invaluable growth opportunities.

The Art of Leadership

Wiseman shared a conversation with Keith Crock, Founder & CEO of Ariba and Docusign, about the art of leadership. In it, the two explore what successful leaders hold loosely and what they hold tightly. We all know the tightly wound leader — they’re tense, they assume their way of doing things is the right way, and they end up micromanaging their team. On the other side of the spectrum are what we might call the hippie manager. They give people room to take risks and be creative, but sometimes fail to provide sufficient structure. Some things do, in fact, need to be done or understood in a certain way. Discerning what to hold tightly and what to hold loosely is an art form. Clarity about the organization’s definition of success or values probably needs to be held tightly, while some processes and methods can be held loosely. 

If any of this resonates with you, let’s set up a video meeting to discuss how you can level up your leadership game.