The Lasting Impact of Positive Leadership

I recently read a blog post that opened by quoting Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence, as saying that “leadership style has a 70% impact on an organization’s climate which in turn impacts business performance” and closed with the statement, “Having engaged, trained, effective folks is good for all of us – it’s good for business and it’s good for society. And that’s the true impact of effective leadership.”

I think it would be hard to argue with either of those comments… The author also made a solid point between the two in sharing that many folks participate in various things referred to as “leadership training” but often do absolutely nothing different afterward. There could be a whole host of reasons for the lack of specific action following the training they attend but as much as I’d like to, we won’t dig into that right now. What we will do soon though is work through some benefits we should expect to see individually and throughout our organization by practicing that ever-so elusive thing called positive leadership!

But before we nail down some very technical practices around what’s so often considered to be very intangible, let’s stop to think about why any of it would even matter… More than two decades ago, I learned that people rarely shy away from tasks simply because they’re difficult to perform or because there’s not enough compensation involved; I could name dozens (maybe hundreds) of people who have volunteered as fire and rescue personnel for years. Not only did they do this without compensation, many of them routinely risk their lives to do it - and pay for the required training out of their own pocket! 

So why in the world do they do it? While each would likely explain it with their own twist, I believe it always boils down to being passionate about the impact they can make in the process.

When it comes to investing the time and energy that it will absolutely require to develop the necessary skills to make the kind of impact that can only be made by positive leadership, we’d better have a very clear picture in our minds of why we’re doing it or we’ll likely choose an easier path somewhere along the way… During one of the breaks at a conference Cindy and I presented at recently for the Virginia Employment Commission’s Veterans Services team, one of our friends who retired from the United States Marine Corps and is now completely dedicated to serving other former service members commented that the work he does now “impacts more than just that one individual, it impacts their entire sphere of influence.” I’m not sure any truer words have ever been spoken - with regards to his role in serving other veterans or with regards to the lasting impact of positive leadership!

His role as part of the Veterans Services team can come with an extremely heavy workload and an even heavier emotional weight, which is no different from what we’ll be faced with when we work to provide our teams with positive leadership! Having complete clarity about the impact we can have on each individual we serve, as well as the impact we’ll also have on their entire sphere of influence over time, can be something that keeps us moving forward in the toughest of times! With that in mind, let’s look at another example I heard recently of fighting the odds to make an impact…

What’s It Worth To You?

As we think about what my friend shared with me explaining why he does what he does for a fraction of the pay he could be making elsewhere; the lasting impact of that work is what drives him! Truth be told, I don’t know that doubling the salary would be even close to enough for what he’s doing if he wasn’t getting fulfillment from it…

Unfortunately, the prerequisites that build to developing the lasting impact that can only come from positive leadership is very similar. There’s so much work, over and above the standard requirements of our job descriptions, that we’ll have to toil through - sometimes for years - before we see even the slightest hint of fruit. If we don’t have absolute clarity of what we’re working toward and why it really matters to us, it can be incredibly hard to stick with it. Quite honestly, I believe that’s why we have so many folks supervising and managing but so few people really leading…

If you’ve been around me much at all, you know I enjoy 80’s hair band music… Over the last several months, I’ve had the opportunity to help an old roommate, who started a YouTube channel (now with close to 10k subscribers) around doing reaction videos of that style of music, by hosting live interviews with folks in the industry that are streamed to his channels. At this point, you’re probably wondering how I fit in that mix… While I do enjoy the music, time is limited for me and I just haven’t kept up with music since the late 90s. Well, I have done thousands of interviews, albeit for a very different purpose, and I’ve had to get versed with live stream technology out of necessity…

While leadership and workplace communication will likely never come up as a topic in those interviews, achieving success in any industry always requires the kind of work ethic and dedication that separates the players from the pretenders. I’ve been able to pull something from every single interview I’ve been a part of that tells me whether or not that individual has the kind of clarity of purpose to do what they’ll need to do over the long haul to make a mark. Without that passion, hunger, clarity, or whatever you want to call it, the impact won’t be lasting - in music, in business, or in leadership!

One of those interviews was with a band from a province in northeastern India. How about that for technology… If I’m being completely transparent, the music itself didn’t grab me. But their message did! Over the years, I’ve seen lots of musicians make names (and fortunes) for themselves by blasting capitalism and any number of other things they’ve deemed evil. I’ll fight the significant urge to go down the rabbit hole here of just how ironic it is for the rockstar to fly from city to city on a private jet to shame those greedy rich people… All that said, this band wasn’t doing that. They were calling attention to devastating statistics resulting from various forms of domestic violence that’s basically accepted in their culture. By taking that stance, they’ve effectively forfeited any opportunity to be successful in their own country because their government doesn’t allow what they’re addressing through their music to be shared publicly. That would be one thing if they were from some tiny dot on the map no one had heard of, but their country consists of an eighth of the population on the entire planet!

I wasn’t part of the live interview but I was running the live feed and watching from behind the scenes. When we ended the live stream, I had to ask why they had chosen to take that stand. Their response was simple; “If our message raises awareness about these issues with just one person who can help us make a difference, it will be worth it.”

Hearing that took me right back to why my friend was so passionate about the work he does with veterans, and it applies just as much to the clarity we’ll need to have if we really want to make a lasting impact through positive leadership!

But hold on there, Wes… How can we ever hope to reach everyone who needs and deserves that kind of positive leadership?

Is There Ever Enough to Go Around?

Whether we’re supervising a department, managing an entire facility, or running a business of our own, there’s never a shortage of demands on our time! And let’s face it, doing anything that even comes close to making the lasting impact that positive leadership can have with our team members can often turn into one of those ideas that sounds good in theory but is really tough to squeeze in…

Ed Mylett closed his segment of the 2021 Live2Lead event by sharing the significance of what he saw his father do just hours before he passed away to drive home the idea of The Power of One More, which he recently published as a book. His point was that we often underestimate how much impact we can have on any one person’s life and that making time just one more time can have a ripple effect we never fully grasp - on that specific individual, their circle of friends & family, as well as anyone who may be watching us in that moment. 

In his book, Know What You’re FOR, Jeff Henderson (another one of the 2021 LIve2Lead speakers) tells a story of something he emphasized at each church he pastored over the years and how doing that one thing led to growth in each of those churches. Jeff explained that, just like leaders in any other field, the folks responsible for reaching out to and welcoming new visitors at the church often have very limited time to interact with each visitor the way they’d really like to. Jeff understood that he’d never have enough folks in that particular role to do it all so he stressed that they each “do for one what they wished they could do for everyone.” As simple as that may sound, it definitely carried the lasting impact of positive leadership, by making a great impression with each person they interacted with directly but also with everyone else close enough to see what was going on.

 Since I first shared the ideas above with the folks who receive my complimentary email series, A Daily Dose Of Leadership, I traded a few more messages with my retired USMC friend that detailed the impact he knew he was making in his current role with Veterans Services for the Virginia Employment Commission. In one of those messages, Alex told me about what he learned as the “Strategic Corporal” concept. He said that “If you tell a young Marine how much his or her actions can have an impact on the world stage and by extension the entire Marine Corps and their career, they'll pay attention. The last thing you want to do as a Marine is let down the foxhole mate to your left or to your right in a firefight. The next to the last thing after that is taint or soil the reputation that Marines before you built for the Marine Corps.” Cindy and I cover a similar idea in a complimentary session we offer periodically in a webinar format called Building Buy-In Around a Clear Mission & Vision; when we help our team members understand the importance of each thing they’re responsible for in their role, finding time or energy to engage at an even higher level is nearly automatic!

When we really reflect on the lasting impact we can have by providing positive leadership to our teams, the time to make a difference just once more is so much easier to find for us too! In my next page like this, we’ll start looking at some specific positive leadership qualities we can embrace, some examples of positive leaders throughout history, and the tangible benefits we can expect to see from building those qualities into our organizational culture!