How To Turn Yourself From A Contributor Into An Impact Player
It is a familiar sight in sports. A crucial moment in a key game and somebody steps up to make it pay. English fans will think of Johnny Wilkinson’s drop goal to win the Rugby World Cup back in 2003. Those who follow cricket will remember Ben Stokes’s crucial roles in the World Cup victory over New Zealand. In the U.S., recollections could well feature the NFL’s long-serving quarterback Tom Brady and his frequent feats in unlikely circumstances or the many extraordinary plays by the basketball legend Michael Jordan. But the point is clear. All professional sports players are highly proficient with the skills to do things with a bat or a ball that the rest of us can only dream of. But just a few can pull it off when it matters most, when the stakes are highest and the pressure the most intense. These are what managers and pundits call the “big game players.”
But such individuals do not just feature in sports. Businesses and all sorts of other organizations are these days, thanks to much more rigorous training programs, loaded with proficient people with the skills to help their enterprises succeed. Yet a few will stand out for their consistent ability to over-deliver. These are the star dealmakers in investment banks, the much sought-after law firm partners, the highly successful surgeons etc etc.
Just as in sports, a lot depends on these individuals and organizations should want to know what makes them perform like they do. Fortunately, Liz Wiseman, author of the acclaimed book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, has been applying her research and analytical skills to the issue and published the results in a new book, Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. She and her research team have identified five practices that differentiate impact players from what they call Contributors. Impact players, they say react to messy problems by seeing a chance to be useful and so Do the Job That Is Needed rather than just getting on with their job. Where there are unclear roles, they see an opportunity to provide leadership and Step Up, Then Step Back rather than waiting for direction. They regard unforeseen obstacles as a chance to do it a better way and Finish Stronger rather than pushing issues upwards. Moving targets are seen as a reason to build new capabilities and so they Ask and Adjust rather than just sticking with what they already know. Finally, impact players see unrelenting demands as a need to work together and so Make Work Light, while contributors might see them as an additional burden.
The book offers many insights into how individuals can make a bigger impact (impact players, as is seen in sports when good coaching plays a role, can be developed) and it also suggests how organizations can better develop high-impact performers. But it also acknowledges the important role of contributors in high-impact teams.
Further reinforcement of the idea that people can be influenced to change behaviors is contained in another new book by another renowned executive coach, Peter Bregman, In You Can Change Other People, Bregman, writing with colleague Howie Jacobson, he offers a four-step program to help others change. The steps are:
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- Shift from Critic to Ally. This, says Bregman, is the “magic move” that moves the initiator past potential resistance to become “a trusted guide.”
- Identify and Energizing Outcome. This shifts attention from the problem to the desired outcome and in so doing provides the right focus and exposes new and creative ways forward.
- Find the Hidden Opportunity. In this step the original problem is used as an opportunity to achieve the outcome wanted in a new and unexpected way.
- Create an Action Plan. This involves the helper assisting an individual with generating, refining and committing to a specific plan so that they know exactly what they are going to do and are confident they can achieve it. This turns insight into action and intentions into impact.
According to Bregman, the beauty of the approach is that it applies just as well to the domestic setting as it does to the workplace. This is perhaps more significant than might otherwise be apparent because, as we enter a new era of remote working, self-management is going to become crucial. Away from the office building where individuals can be assumed to be making a contribution just by being there, there is going to be a much greater need to make an identifiable impact. These two books offer existing leaders tips for developing those for whom they are responsible and also provide lessons in how a new generation of leaders can flourish in the new and demanding world that is emerging.