Are You Making an Impact as a Leader?

Leadership Social Entrepreneurship

With the current COVID-19 environment, a hurting economy and a move towards greater equality and diversity, the need to make a practical impact is evident. A lot of leaders I talk with genuinely want to make a difference, now more than ever, but don’t know how.

I often hear the words “helping” and “making an impact” interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing—especially when it comes to leadership. Anyone can help, but it takes authenticity and intention to make an impact.

Impact, as defined by the dictionary, means having a strong effect on someone or something. Impact is not a specific action or an isolated event; it’s a long-lasting change in people.

To be an effective leader, you need to be someone who has an impact on others on a regular basis. It’s not just helping people, customers or employees with assistance but rather teaching, inspiring, propelling them to a new way of thinking and living. If you’re that type of leader, I can guarantee you will have success and a more satisfying career.


Helping Versus Making an Impact

Let’s further break down the difference between helping and making an impact.

Consider the old saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

Giving the fish is helping. It’s a charitable act made out of compassion, duty, guilt or some other kind of motivation toward the person you’re helping. Teaching them to fish is making an impact. It changes their behaviour and thinking in a way that can last their lifetime; it can even be passed on to others in the present and future generations.

Giving to a charity is helping. Inspiring people to care for that charity’s cause is impact. Do you see the difference?

Impact is influence that inspires others toward perpetual positive behaviour. Let me say that again: impact, as a leader should define it, is influence that inspires others toward perpetual positive behaviour.

In other words, impact lasts.


What It Means to Be a Leader

How does making an impact relate to leadership?

John Maxwell, the famous leadership author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, says that “leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.”

He’s right, but his definition is not complete. Leaders influence and can create impact. Having influence doesn’t automatically create impact, but it does provide an opportunity for it. In essence, impact is influence that inspires.

For example, parents have influence, and their impact is seen in how their kids grow and behave. Managers and bosses have a great deal of influence and can impact their employees with what they teach, how they work and model behaviour, and how they build up their people.

To reinforce, impact changes or alters the way someone thinks and inspires them to lasting positive behaviour. Leaders influence, but not every leader produces impact.


Look to Your Personal Leaders for Inspiration

If you want to know what impactful leadership looks like, think about the people who have made a difference in your life.

Who were they? A teacher. Coach. Boss. Friend. Family.

Now I want you to do a quick exercise. Yeah, I know this feels annoying because you just can’t leisurely read this part. But trust me, it’ll be good.

Think about or better yet, write the names of one to three people who have in your mind. What did they do or say that had an impact on you?  Try to be as concrete as possible. For example, if you had a teacher who impacted you, try to remember the story or context that made you feel that way, such as, “My speech to the class was going terribly and I started to cry, but my teacher congratulated me for having the courage to be vulnerable.”

Now, I want you to imagine the people in your life: family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, employees, teammates, suppliers and anyone else.

How many of them, if they did this exercise, would put your name down? How many would have a story about how you impacted them or have had an impact on them in the past?

I’ve done this exercise with hundreds of leaders in keynotes or LeaderImpact groups and the response is the same. It’s sobering. It’s a wake-up call, even for me, to think about my interactions with others and to see if I’ve actually been intentional with them. Am I focused on having an impact or am I too busy getting stuff done that I’ve prioritized productivity over people?

The good news is that today, tomorrow and the next day are opportunities to do it well. Have some grace for yourself and just keep looking for opportunities. They’ll be there and you’ll get better at having an impact each time.


You Have the Ability to Impact

Right now, you might be thinking, “I don’t know if I can make an impact…”, but you can. I want you to say this to yourself, out loud, right now: “Everyone has the ability to impact.”

Do you believe that? This is the first step in becoming a leader of impact. You have to believe, in your soul, that you can have an impact on others. That you have the ability, and I would say responsibility, to be a leader of impact.

If you believe this statement—and it’s a simple statement—you’ll have the ability to start a movement of inspiration within your family, network or company that will carry itself farther than you’ll believe. You’ll not only help people practically that day; you’ll influence them to grow and make long-lasting changes in their life.

It’s like the Jell-O of the Month Club: Impact is a gift that keeps on giving.


For more advice on making a significant impact on the world, you can find Becoming a Leader of Impact on Amazon.