How to make an impact

Success stories, whether they involve sports, entertainment, or business, tend to stress the role played by the leader. The “great man theory” of leadership certainly captures the imagination by fixing it on a single dynamic personality. But focusing too much on the leaders means that the role of contributors tends to be understudied. In Impact Players, author and consultant Liz Wiseman offers a compelling portrait of what makes someone an extraordinary team member.

Impact Players was published in October 2021 and serves as a follow up on or complement to Wiseman’s classic 2010 book, Multipliers. That book was all about leaders, how effective leadership has an exponential effect on the overall growth and success of a team or company. Impact Players takes a different approach, honing in on what sort of employees make the biggest impact on their team and how they do so.

To research the book, Wiseman and her colleagues interviewed managers and HR representatives at over 100 top organizations, from Google to NASA. They sought out teams that were entirely comprised of highly talented, hard working, generally competent people. From this pool of skilled professionals, they asked managers to identify those contributors who made the biggest impact by rising above and beyond the mere job description.

Wiseman calls the regular, albeit highly talented, employees “typical contributors,” while the top performers are “impact players,” a term she borrows from sports. Impact players have an outsized impact on their team’s performance. Their reputation for competence and dedication helps define the culture and ethos.

With these distinctions in mind, what actually makes someone an impact player as opposed to a typical contributor?

Wiseman identifies mindset as the determining factor, not intelligence or work output. The highest performers see their work through the lens of opportunity, taking challenges, ambiguities, and moving targets in stride. Even highly competent and productive professionals can be thrown for a loop by tough times. Especially, when roles are unclear and there is a diffusion of responsibility most people tend to stay in their lane. Someone else can step up.

Impact players are precisely the sort of people who step up in tough times. They see adversity as an opportunity to tackle new problems and contribute to the team’s success. They aren’t opportunists or brutal careerists. Indeed, Wiseman emphasizes that impact players are typically self-effacing and care more about the bigger picture than their own egos. Without a degree of humility, they would not take the additional effort elevate the whole team and lend a helping hand.

The first half of the book is primarily about what makes someone an impact player. It delves into the mindset in detail, articulating a vision of top performance that most people have experienced, but not necessarily put into words. The second half focuses more on how to cultivate impact players and is more geared towards managers and leaders.

One particularly good insight from the book is the positive feedback loop that impact players can create. High performers step up to take on an extra challenge and succeed in tackling it. This success enhances their reputation in the organization and fosters an enhanced relationship with their manager. This manager then both mentors the impact player and sends bigger challenges their way, and the cycle continues. The impact player gets the benefits of growing expertise and potentially increased compensation. The leader gets their problems solved. It’s a win-win, and definitely the type of dynamic you want to foster within your teams.

Impact Players is a readable and insightful book. By approaching success from the vantage point of contributors rather than leaders it will help any reader have a more nuanced understanding of professional success.

Impact Players by Liz Wiseman is available for purchase here.

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