What’s Your Impact Awareness?

Previously, I’ve written about this leadership truth:

Everything you do (or don’t do) and everything you say (or don’t say) has an impact, intended and unintended. Conscious and effective leaders constantly scan for and consider these impacts.

The awareness and personal ownership of these impacts is a vital part of any leader’s overall impact. Likewise, the inability or unwillingness to pay attention to and take ownership of these impacts (particularly the unintended ones) is one of the biggest leadership blind spots.

Too often, leaders want to be judged by their intentions and seek to be off the hook for any unintended impacts, and this creates a wide range of team gaps including trust and safety. When a leader has a negative impact on the team or a team member and falls back to “I didn’t mean it that way,” this disempowers team members and causes them to wonder about their value. As was recently shared with me by a friend, “We judge ourselves based upon our intentions, but we are judged by others based upon our impact [intended and unintended].” Leaders take personal responsibility for these impacts.

Let’s take a look at just a handful of areas where leaders can have an unintended impact on (and often communicate an unintended message to) team members.

  • Talking instead of asking – When leaders insist on doing all the talking, having all the answers and mostly telling people what to do, there’s an impact. This impact often involves a perceived message to team members that they’re not important, that their opinions don’t matter, or that they’re incapable of independent ideas or decisions.
  • Failing to be present and listen – When leaders fail to listen or to be present with their team members, the impact is often that team members don’t feel heard (or valued), will tend to stay quiet and not speak up, and always defer to the leader or other team members. This impact runs contrary to the goal of empowering and engaging the entire team.
  • Failing to provide feedback – If leaders care about their team members and their growth and development, they will commit to providing regular and specific feedback (both positive and critical). When leaders fail to make time to provide feedback to team members (or only provide critical feedback), the impact is that team members will feel that they are always coming up short, will not trust the leader and will be hesitant to change and grow because they don’t feel the leader is willing to invest in them.

At the core, team members want to feel seen and heard, which leads to a critical sense of value and safety. When leaders fail to “see” their team members, fail to catch them getting things right (positive feedback) and aren’t willing to listen to them, team members will disengage, play it safe and refuse to engage with the leader, team and organization.

Clearly, impact is a critical element for any leader, and this includes intended and unintended impacts. While it would be great if our impact was limited to our intentions as leaders, that’s not the reality.

If you want to be an influential and impactful leader, it’s vital that you take ownership of and responsibility for all your impacts, whether you intended them or not. When leaders are conscious of, scan for and take ownership of all of their impacts, team members will be more likely to follow, engage and commit. In short, your impact awareness will have a profound impact on your leadership and influence.

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