What impact do YOU want to make?
Wow. It’s amazing the impact that one person can have. It’s easy to forget how powerful we all are. Single-handedly, we can take an entire team down in flames, or inspire thousands worldwide to believe in themselves and make a positive difference in their world. I’ve witnessed both ends of the spectrum.
When I first met the “down-in-flames” leader, she didn’t make eye contact with me, her self-consciousness peeking out from behind her I’m-suppose-to-be-tough-exterior. With her team, she was critical and condescending. When people brought her their ideas she shut them down right away, without consideration. She didn’t listen. She didn’t ask questions. Recognition and appreciation were unheard of. Every person on her team believed to their very soul that she didn’t care, that she was somehow born without a heart, and that her primary goal in life was to make them miserable. I knew this to be untrue, but then again it’s much easier to be understanding and compassionate toward someone when you lived in a different state! Senior leaders, for years, had made attempts to coach down-in-flames, to no avail. Team members threatened to leave regularly, but didn’t. They’d stay, she’d stay, and nothing changed. It was an openly hostile environment. Productivity? You’ve got to be kidding. Engagement? Ha! Imagine the cost! The impact one person can make is amazing.
Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, there was a very different kind of impact being made. Back in 2010, when this post was originally written, I sat in the audience with 189-ish fellow participants from around the world during my “Weekend with Lou” (that would be Lou Tice, the founder of The Pacific Institute), I was stunned. Inspired. Excited. Routinely, over the course of our three days together, I heard examples of families, hospitals, prison inmates, school children, sports teams, entire communities that had learned to elevate their thinking to elevate their results. People from the Dominican Republic, from Mexico, China, Canada, all over the US. Lives all over the world changing for the better. When I met Lou he was surrounded with quite an impressive team to help him carry out his big vision, but it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, 45 years ago, he was a small town football coach who set out to make an impact. On himself. He did. He started by elevating his thinking, which elevated his results. It grew from there.
A few weeks after I attended Lou’s program, my participants and I were talking about focusing on what you can control vs. what you can’t control (following a comment made by someone veering dangerously down the finger-pointing path) and I remember one of the more vocal leaders in the group sang out, “Check yourself first!”. We all turned to hear her out as she was adamantly shaking her head and raising her hands to the heavens. ” You gotta check yourself first! That’s all I’m sayin’!” Amen!
What really makes the difference between someone who is a “down-in-flames” leader, and someone like Lou? It’s not opportunity – their economic and educational backgrounds were likely not that different. It’s not biology – “Down-in-flames”, despite what her team thought, wasn’t born with some evil gene, while Lou got nice-guy genes. I believe that there are three things that differentiate the great leaders from the not-so-great leaders, and Lou exhibited all three:
1. Great leaders “check themselves first”. They are always examining their own thoughts and behaviors and looking for what they can do better. They are disciplined in their thinking and understand that how they think influences how they act. They keep the messages they send themselves positive, and the messages they let in from others (about who they are and what they’re capable of doing) filtered. They challenge themselves to be their personal best and model growth for those they lead.
2. They focus on the impact that they want to have. They understand what drives them internally and are clear about the impact that they want to have outside themselves. Because they can name the impact that they want to have, they can consciously work toward creating it, or course correct as necessary. Their actions and the impact that they make are congruent with who they are on the inside. People know who they are, what they are about, and trust them.
3. They are focused on constructive action toward making an impact. It doesn’t take a great leader to threaten or bully someone into getting results. Often during stress we look for the fastest route to getting what we want, regardless of the cost. Great leaders recognize that short-term results attained at a human cost, create big-picture-problems. It takes a great leader to inspire, or to build relationships, when times are tough and numbers are down. Is it harder to do? Absolutely. But that’s what separates the great from the not-so-great.
You can choose what impact you want to have. No one has to go “down-in-flames”. There is another way.
Yes, we are that powerful.
©OnStage Leadership, 2010 (re-posted 2014)
This post is dedicated to Lou Tice, 1935 – 2013
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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying!
Are you a manager who wants to avoid going “down-in-flames”? Do you want to have a bigger impact? You can. Join us at our upcoming session of OnStage Leadership: Dallas, TX – July 24; NYC, Fall 2014 (date tbd). Register Now.