A version of this article was first published in the Indian Management magazine.
Stephen walked through the turnstiles for the first time since being appointed the new Chief Operating Officer.
He was filled with energy and pride, having finally secured the senior position he had so coveted. This had been a long process, as all senior appointments are. He had waited for this day for 6 months. He had no history in the organization and had been given a blank canvas for his role.
Sophia met him and showed him to his desk. Desk?! Stephen swivelled around, eyes darting to try to locate his office. There wasn’t one, he realized. Before he could say anything, he was quickly whisked off to a meeting with the rest of the Executive team, in an opaque glass fronted conference room. His new career chapter started and before he knew it, it was time for lunch and his first moment to reflect on his new reality.
Why don’t I have an office? How will this work? How will people know I’m senior? I need to show my authority and get myself an office!
Stephen didn’t get an office. The CEO had a firm policy that none of the executives would have an office, as Stephen realised when talking to a few of his peers. Stephen was surprised and initially perplexed, and ultimately it forced him to think differently about his impact as COO. His impact would depend on his executive presence rather than the visual statement of power that comes with an office.
In this example we can observe that the impact you have as leaders is not through position alone but even more about how you behave. You don’t have to have an office to have an impact.
Given that impact is so important, you need to challenge yourself to become aware of the impact you have or maybe lack. Day by day, minute by minute, action by action, your behaviours create the culture you and your team(s) operate within. What culture are you creating today? It starts with you and the ripple effect that you have. Your behaviour as a leader is magnified into the organization. It’s like a big magnifying glass so if you don’t like something that is happening in your organization then hold up the mirror to yourself – and reflect on how you have been a part in creating that. And if you do like something that is happening then chances are you are creating that too, so be proud.
You may have a lot of strategies, for the business, for change initiatives and more, but you also need to have a strategy for your impact and therefore what that will do for the business. You can’t depend on symbols of power, such as a corner office, to make you impactful. You need to take control of your personal impact.
What all leaders have in common is that they always operate through others, they need to enable employees to do a great job. This is why your impact becomes your most important strategy in order to deliver the desired and expected results.
Your impact is and should be bigger than you. And as a senior leader in particular, it’s not about raising your own profile, your focus on impact is for the good of the business, the greater good. Consistent and/or powerful impact creates your legacy, what the history books would say about you. What you become known for. Your legacy is also your personal brand. What do you want to be known for? What legacy do you choose? When you move on to the next role, what do you want to be remembered for?
Leadership impact has always been important but often more of a subconscious occurrence than a focused effort. The awareness of its importance has grown over time, hence also the need to, at a minimum, manage or ideally even create the impact you WANT to have rather than just accepting the impact you naturally have.
Be more intentional about the impact you are having!
If you are a senior leader, your impact is also greater. You set the pace for your organisation. You need to be intentional about your impact – you need to lead and role model the kind of impact behaviours the organisation, its people, its customers and all other stakeholders need.
Many people find the whole idea of creating impact challenging as it somehow seems false or conceited to them to create impact, they may therefore be reluctant to do something with this. This is particularly true for leaders in the early stages of their career. If you’re a more senior leader, this concept should and needs to be at the forefront of your mind and something you should be comfortable with. Recognise that creating impact is a positive, powerful and respectful commitment to excellence – and that you always need to do this in an authentic way, a way that suits you.
Reputation and Brand matters in all leadership positions and it’s important for leaders to understand and work with that. Whatever leadership role you’re in, it’s your duty to ensure you have a strategy for your impact, that you can be in control of. You are never guaranteed the office, the car or any other visual proof of positional power, but the impact you choose through how you act and behave is entirely yours to choose and control.
Things move fast, we’re all surrounded by constant change. Leaders need to create impact in the moment, to not lose the power of that moment. No one is perfect and no one will get it right all the time, but they need to at least seize their most important moments and create the impact that will help them connect with others in a respectful way, to create trust, get others to listen to them, to influence effectively and to drive results.
Focus on both the “what” and the “how”
Our ability to have a good or even great impact is becoming more and more important. We all need to think about the effect we have on others and what effect we want to have. ”How” we operate rather than simply ”what” we do is becoming more and more critical to success. It’s all about how we impact people, the business and the world around us. In fact, it is fast becoming the differentiating factor for successful executives, leaders and organisations overall, something that we observe every day in our work. We all need to pay attention to how we want “to be” as well as what we want “to do”. The more senior you become the more thinking about how you want “to be” rises to the top.
We all need to manage our personal impact, and the effect our impact has on all our stakeholders, both in the short- and the long-term.
Having impact when the clock is ticking
Leaders are often brought in to an organization or are reassigned to a specific division or region to make a difference within a given timeframe. Some common examples of that are:
- A CEO is appointed to turn around a failing business
- A CEO is appointed to lead the organization through an aggressive growth strategy through mergers & acquisitions
- A leader is asked to implement a specific change to how the organisation is working
- An interim leader is asked to keep the organization afloat while a new permanent leader is identified and hired
Whatever the reasons are for the finite timeframe, any specific deadline brings about an extra need for putting an impact plan in place, where the leader ask her/himself: How can I maximise my impact to deliver as expected within the timeframe (even if I don’t have a corner office!)?
Chief Enabling Officer
A leader has a responsibility to the people they lead; to add value to them, to be of service to them. In fact, the title CEO may well stand for Chief Enabling Officer in addition to the more commonly used Chief Executive Officer. And If we extend that to all leaders, they are also in the business of enabling their employees and teams. And what better way to enable people than role modelling the behaviours that shape an organizational culture that can flourish into the future?
Here are some examples of Impactful behaviours to consider for your Impact Strategy:
- Listening without prejudice
- Communicating with passion
- Taking a genuine interest in other people
- Seeing the bigger picture and being able to share it in an clear way
- Generously sharing knowledge and insights
- Showing trust in others
- Communicating openly, honestly and respectfully
Yes, your behaviours are critical to your success, so think about what behaviours you want to be demonstrating and role modelling to others. Your personal impact can be much more powerful than any corner office could ever be.