Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact by Liz Wiseman – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

Impact Players• Some people seem to know how to make themselves valuable. They pay attention. They look for the most productive places to put their capability to use. They make things work, and they get the job done, even when the job gets difficult. They not only deliver results but send ripples of positive impact throughout their team and across the organization. Managers trust them when the stakes are high and turn to them in critical situations. They find a way to break through and make an impact while others are merely going through the motions.
• Managers may be Multipliers, but the contributor is also a variable in the equation; the way they work determines their level of contribution, influence, and eventual impact.
• It is time to turn over the coin and examine what the best contributors do, how they create extraordinary value around them, and how that strengthens their voice and increases their influence in the world.
• As one manager put it, the Impact Player was “someone I would want to be trapped on a desert island with” compared to another employee, who is “someone I would have to help survive.”
Liz Wiseman, Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact

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There are a lot of different ways to describe the people who work all around us.

We’ve seen too many workers that seem to have no business working at all.  They are… lazy, inattentive, doing the bare minimum, if that much.

This book is not about such workers.

Others are workers who get so very much done.  And, their impact seems to be all out of proportion to other workers.  They have a BIG IMPACT.  They are, in the words of Liz Wiseman, the Impact Players.  They make us smile with admiration and appreciation.  They seem to be other-worldly in their skills and their accomplishments.  They soar way above the rest of the crowd.  If only all were like these workers…

So, what sets these apart?  What makes them players of such great impact?  Why do they matter as much as they do?

Liz Wiseman is a clear writer, and in her two books – Multipliers, and now Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact – she seems to grab hold of a key issue and help us know more about what makes such leaders multiply their impact (Multipliers), and how some “contributors” make greater contributions than others (Impact Players).

I presented my synopsis of Impact Players at the December, 2021 First Friday Book Synopsis.  It is a terrific book!

As always, I begin with the point of the book.  What is the point for this book?  Some workers (some human beings) have greater impact than others.  You should learn, and practice, the behaviors that have the most useful, lasting, greatest impact.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book:

#1 – This book helps us understand why some people at work have a greater impact than others.  (And, it’s not just work ethic, or lack of laziness).
#2 – This book is a tutorial on the way things really work, on teams and within organizations.
#3 – This book is an actionable guide, providing a clear path to follow to become an Impact Player.

I always a include a few pages of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages.  Here are quite few of the best of the best from this book:

• There are thousands of books about how to excel as a leader, but how does one become a top contributor? 
• The Impact Players in our study see everyday challenges as opportunities. To Impact Players, unclear direction and changing priorities are chances to add value. They are energized by the messy problems that would enervate or foil others. Lack of clarity doesn’t paralyze them; it provokes them. Invitations to make changes are intriguing, not intimidating. Perhaps most fundamentally, they don’t see problems as distractions from their job; rather, they are the job—not just their job, but everyone’s job. 
• Impact Players tend to be self-managing and offer their managers the assurance and peace of mind that they will complete the job, in full, without being told or reminded. 
• The distinction between the Impact Player and the Contributor is not a classification of individuals but of practices.  
• But when we look beyond our ideal job and do the job that needs to be done, we make ourselves useful—and much more valuable—and increase our influence. 
• The world of work is getting messier—more complex, more chaotic, and more interconnected—thanks in part to the combined effects of globalization and technology.  …Complex problems—those involving too many unknowns and interrelated factors to reduce to rules and processes—are on the rise. 
• This is one of the central problems of modern organizations: if you are doing today’s job, you are probably handling yesterday’s priorities.   
• Doesn’t every manager want people who will do what they are asked to do? Aren’t dream employees the ones who diligently do their jobs? That may have been true in the past, but today’s leaders don’t need more dependents, they need extensions—more eyes spotting opportunities, more ears listening for unmet needs, more hands solving problems.   
• CREDIBILITY KILLERS: Waiting for managers to tell you what to do; Ignoring the bigger picture;  Telling your manager that it’s not your job. CREDIBILITY BUILDERS: Doing things without being asked;  Anticipating problems and having a plan.
• The reality is that contributors at all levels need to figure out the current organizational agenda on their own—a behavior pattern seen in high-impact contributors.   
• But he had read an article in Harvard Business Review several years earlier that suggested that to be happiest, don’t follow your passion, go solve big problems. 
Impact Players work where they are most needed and get seen as utility players.
• But I’ve always had my greatest impact—and the most fun—when I was working on what was most important to the organization and making myself useful. 
• History is replete with examples of faithful followers who failed to question unethical orders and crimes committed by victims who sympathized with their captors.  …be mindful to maintain the psychological distance and independent thought needed to question the wisdom and ethics of any directive. …“Will I regret doing this when I’m no longer working for this person or organization?”   
• There’s another type of problem that might be more vexing. I call them ambient problems. …the nonglaring, low-grade issues where the status quo is suboptimal but tolerable. Most people learn to live with these problems, but ambient problems erode performance over time. They are particularly damaging because they are easy to ignore. …These problems become white noise in the organization.  …That is, until someone takes notice and decides that the organization can, and should, do better.   
• Do you settle for good enough or step up and make it better? Do you let it be or step up and lead? 
• Recreational complaining. People vent but don’t expect a resolution. 
• Not a single one of the Impact Players we learned about was a bully or even a bull in a china shop leaving messes for their bosses to clean up; rather, they were described as collaborators who were easy to work with. …They offer leadership that is confident and compelling but not overly aggressive. It’s a light but strong form of leadership.  
• “You need a lot of relationship to do big things together.” 
• Mary Parker Follett, a management philosopher in the early twentieth century, said, “Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.”   
• The best leaders are willing to lead, but they are fluid leaders, rising up and falling back as the situation commands
• When ownership is jointly held, confusion can ensue.  …Though we often think that a leaderless situation creates anarchy (something akin to a scene from the Lord of the Flies), it is more likely to cause inaction.
• A lot of professionals play a good game. They take action and work hard but too often stop before the job is finished.  …The most influential professionals—and entire teams—make a greater impact because they finish the job and finish stronger than others.   
• Create a shared vision of the work by documenting: (1) the performance standard: what a great job looks like; (2) the finish line: what a complete job looks like; (3) the boundaries: what’s not part of the job.
• The Impact Players in our study showed greater levels of coachability, or responsiveness to guidance, than their peers did. …Those who identified as followers were consistently the least coachable.  
• Proactively asking for feedback has the same effect as offering to do something before your boss asks you to, a practice that managers appreciate most and that ranks number one on the list of credibility builders.
• You can close the loop by saying: (1) This is the guidance you gave me, (2) This is how I acted upon it, (3) This is what ensued, (4) This is how this experience benefited me and others, and (5) This is what I plan to do next.
• Further, managers want to work alongside people who are easy—easy to get along with, easy to understand, easy to engage—and people who are cooperative, moving forward with ease. …Conversely, team members who create confusion, disruption, or drama are an unwelcome tax on the manager and a liability to the team. 
• You may not have complete control over who is on your team, but by working with the talent you already have, you can build a team that thinks and acts like Impact Players, a team that is capable of winning. 
• You need to actively quell contrary behaviors, particularly the practices that cause smart, talented professionals to contribute below their capability level and the limiting beliefs that have been inured in a team culture.  
• “The three whats” of a successful operation. These are: (1) the performance standard: what a great job looks like; (2) the finish line: what a complete job looks like; and (3) the boundaries: what’s not part of the job.  
• As Marianne Williamson said, “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”  
• CREDIBILITY KILLERS Aka Fifteen Surefire Ways to Alienate Your Boss. …Give your boss problems without solutions. Wait for your boss to tell you what to do. Make your boss chase you down and remind you what to do. Don’t worry about the big picture; just do your piece. Ask your boss about your next promotion or raise. Send long, meandering emails. Bad-mouth your colleagues, create drama, and stir up conflict. Surprise your boss . . . with bad news . . . at the last minute . . . when nothing can be done. Ask to revisit decisions that have already been made. Leave out inconvenient facts and the other side of a story. Blame others for your own mistakes. Agree to your boss’s face but disagree behind his or her back. Tell your boss that something is not your job. Listen to your boss’s feedback, then ignore it. Show up late to meetings, multitask, interrupt others.
• CREDIBILITY BUILDERS. Helping teammates; Bringing good energy, having fun, and making others laugh; Cooperating with others; Getting to the point and telling it straight; Doing your homework and coming prepared.

And, in my synopses, I always include the key points made in the book, along with important  lessons to learn.  Here are a number of such points I made in my synopsis:

  • Thinking about problems and solutions…
  • bring solutions to the table; and then fully implement those solutions
  • but, sometimes, it helps to bring problems to the table without solutions
  • Three kinds of people:
  • Impact Players — They are Impact Players: players who make a significant contribution individually but who also have an enormously positive effect on the entire team.
  • (Typical) Contributors — Smart, talented people who are doing solid (if not great) work
  • Under-contributors — Smart, talented people who are playing below their capability level…
  • When roles are unclear, people operating with a Contributor Mindset look to their leaders for direction. In contrast, Impact Players take charge of situations that lack leadership.
  • Impact Players:
  • Impact Players Wear Opportunity Goggles
  • Impact Players React Differently to Uncertainty
  • Impact Players do the job that needs to be done
  • Impact Players step up and lead. — Their willingness to both lead and follow creates a culture of courage, initiative, and agility inside their organization. — When you see a better way, do you step up or remain a spectator? People who make a big impact step up and lead.
  • Impact Players tend to be completion freaks
  • Impact Players Ask and Adjust — Impact Players tend to adapt to changing conditions faster than their peers because they interpret new rules and new targets as opportunities for learning and growth.
  • Impact Players Tap into Unwritten Rules — They figure out the unwritten rule book—the standards of behavior that one should follow in a particular job or organization
  • Impact Players are assets that appreciate over time. – (They keep learning)
  • Impact Players Make Work Light
  • The Impact Players we studied didn’t necessarily work any harder or any longer than their peers, but they did tend to work with greater intentionality and focus while they were working
  • Impact Players see themselves as problem solvers. They aren’t trapped by antiquated organizational structures or overly enamored with their positions. – In contract, Contributors see themselves as position holders
  • Impact Players jump in because they believe they can make a difference
  • Essential elements
  • A growth mindsetAs Carol Dweck teaches, people holding this mindset don’t necessarily think everyone’s a genius, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
  • Resilience and Grit: requires both resilience (the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties) and grit (sustained persistence in pursuit of achievement). …“When surprises are the new normal, resilience is the new skill.”  …Grit is what keeps us moving forward.
  • Some “Pro Tips”
  • Impact Player Pro Tip: As a general rule, if you aren’t working on your boss’s top three priorities, you are not working on the agenda.
  • Impact Player Pro Tip:  Your peers will be more likely to get behind your efforts to lead if they know it’s temporary. Show them that you will step back once the work is done and are willing to follow them when they are leading.
  • (1) say it once, but say it clearly; (2) present an opposing view to add credibility; and (3) add a short preface to let people know an important idea is coming (e.g., “I have an insight that I’d like to offer.”).
  • Some big ideas:
  • hire what cannot be taught; teach what can be taught…
  • recognize and feed each person’s natural genius – but, then, they have to do other stuff also!
  • They also don’t chase after any and every need; rather, they look for a match between a real need and their own deepest capabilities—a concept I call native genius,
  • Learn to see the W.I.N. – What’s Important Now
  • Do you know what’s important now? Do you understand your organization’s top priorities? Would your leaders and colleagues say you “get it,” meaning that you can converse easily about the strategy?
  • Impact Players understand that their purpose is best discovered over time and with an outward orientation, not in endless self-reflection.
  • A great statement will communicate two messages: (1) “I get you,” meaning “I understand what is important to you,” and (2) “I’ve got you covered,” meaning “I am making this happen.”
  • Aim for low maintenance and high performance!Impact Players offer a low-maintenance, high-accountability proposition: they take ownership, anticipate and wrestle down problems, and do what it takes to complete the whole job.
  • Never make anyone worry about your performance; especially your boss/manager/leader… — If someone delivers only most of the time, the manager still has to worry all the time.
  • Add the extra — In addition to preparing a detailed report, they might add an executive summary and highlight key points.
  • Keep learning — The top contributors we studied were agile learners.
  • When the world of work is changing fast, the critical skill isn’t what you know but how fast you can learn.
  • Develop a user guide – for working with you.
  • Get better (get good) at three of the five: (1) build a strong core by getting good at three of the Impact Player practices; (2) develop one practice into a towering, visible strength—something you become known for; and (3) eliminate any signs of under-contributor behavior.
  • Especially, if you are a coach, teacher, or consultant – read this book!

These five chapters in the book capture the essence of Liz Wiseman’s argument and message.  Look carefully at the five key phrases:

Chapter 2: Make Yourself Useful
Chapter 3: Step Up, Step Back
Chapter 4: Finish Stronger
Chapter 5: Ask and Adjust
Chapter 6: Make Work Light

And, I always end with my own lessons and takeaways.  Here are my seven lessons and takeaways for this book:

#1 — Determine to be an Impact Player, in all your jobs, and in all your roles in life.
#2 – Help others have greater impact, and become impact players themselves. (Therefore, don’t be selfish).
#3 – Examine, and upskill, your own work habits.
#4 – Determine to get far more serious about that lifelong learning challenge.
#5 – Always, always, seek to be useful.
#6 – Determine to not stop until the job is finished.
And…
#7 – Figure things out, and then maybe be a little more assertive – for the good of the team, and the organization.

I present synopses of between 36-40 books each year.  Some are both substantive and practicable; actionable books that can help you know what to do to be more effective.  This is one of the best, most practicable books I have read.  Read it.  Share it.  And then, do what it teaches.  It will help you, and all those you work with and for.  You will be more useful.  And that is a very good thing.

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My synopsis, with the audio recording of my presentation, and my comprehensive, multi-page handout, will be available soon on this web site.  Click here for our newest additions.

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