By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners
Originally published by Forbes.
In today’s workplace, it’s crucial for everyone to be contributing to their fullest. But what does working to one’s fullest look like?
I spoke with Liz Wiseman, author of the new book “Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact” to get to the bottom of what people can do to make sure they’re having an impact in their role. While much has been said about what leaders need to do to foster environments where people can be their most impactful, Liz Wiseman focuses on what those being led can add to the equation. When they’re at their best, Wiseman refers to these employees as “impact players” that stand out and make life easier for everyone around them, and she has some tips on how you can be one yourself.
Leaders can’t be everywhere at once, and while we look to them to set the direction, an impact player will be self-managing and able to take the next logical steps in their job without the need for explicit direction at every turn.
“This frees up their managers to be leaders, not micromanagers,” Wiseman says. High-impact contributors that are tuned in and able to take on the next challenge before they even have to be asked are generally rewarded by managers placing greater faith and trust in them. And when opportunities like other management positions arise, the impact players that have already proven to have a managing mindset for their own work are often the natural choice for those roles.
Impact players see opportunities where others see threats, Wiseman explains. “When a messy or complex problem pops up unexpectedly, many might think ‘that’s not my job,’ but an impact player would look at that and go, ‘Oh, you know what? That’s not really my job per se, but that’s important and it’s a chance to be useful.’”
Seeing an opportunity to create value and jumping on it is something that differentiates the impact player in the eyes of managers. Especially when it comes time to report on this work to the higher-ups; being able to say, “There was an issue, but it’s solved now, and here’s what I did” makes so much more of an impression on a leader than simply bringing the problem to them without a solution. They’ll remember it.
“There are solid contributors,” Wiseman says, “that are smart, capable, and hardworking. They do their job well, carry their weight on teams, and it’s normal to think you want a dozen of these kinds of people on your team. But the difference between these people and impact players is that the impact players aren’t just doing their job, they’re doing the job that needs to be done—they’re looking around, sensing and figuring out what is important to the organization as a whole in a given moment, and doing exactly that.”
Wiseman believes that many job descriptions out there are often years outdated, and while they may work to a degree, they’re not relevant to what a company needs today. Impact players don’t worry about those details, but ask “What’s important to my boss? What is she talking about, what are the issues she keeps coming back to—maybe they’re not on the agenda, but she keeps bringing them up, so maybe that’s where my focus should be.” “That’s the real job,” Wiseman says. “The impact player sets their sights on doing things that are more urgent and important to the people whose work they serve.”
When things get tough, impact players finish the job, maintaining ownership of the project or problem rather than kicking it up the chain to become someone else’s problem. They are able to keep ownership by doing what Wiseman calls negotiating the necessities.
“There’s the workload that we all face, the things we have to get done,” Wiseman says. “And then there’s the phantom workload of people issues, politics and drama, and balancing work life and home. If you’ve got an unrealistic workload, step one is to focus on what’s most important. Step two is to negotiate for the things that you need from your stakeholders; that can be saying to a colleague or leader, “If I’m going to get this done, then I need some air cover here, or your help getting this person on board, or whatever it is you need.” Rather than trying to take unrealistic levels of work and stress on without saying a word, Wiseman advocates that impact players have an honest discussion to negotiate the things that they need in order to stay focused on the work and not get caught up in the phantom workload and everything else around them. People love working with impact players like this because they are clear and up-front with what they need, which equates to a low-maintenance working relationship that isn’t a time-drain on anyone else.
There are many other strategies for being an impact player at your job and some specific mindsets that you need to bring to the table in your quest to leave a lasting impression. Want to learn what they are? Pick up Liz Wiseman’s new book, “Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact,” from Harper Business, available on Amazon; it was the #1 new release in Human Resources & Personnel Management on the site in its first week of publication.