Impact Thinking: Will Your Leadership Make a Difference?

by Jesse Lahey on January 2, 2013

To truly make a difference this year, go for interactive impact. Photo courtesy of BigStock (6761636).

As I’ve shared before, the most powerful mindset for a leader is an impact orientation – being motivated primarily to make a difference in people’s lives. This is in contrast to an achievement orientation (focused on getting tasks done or beating the competition) or affiliation orientation (focused on being liked and accepted by people).

Leadership Smack-Down: Roosevelt vs. Lincoln

An impact orientation is vital to be an effective leader, but it’s not enough for the 21st century. For example, both Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were impact-oriented, but only one of them would likely have produced superior results in the current age.

If you read a biography of Roosevelt, you can’t help but realize he was an amazing man who deserves to be immortalized on Mount Rushmore. “Rough Rider” Teddy was clearly a force of personal genius. He was seemingly everywhere at once: negotiating peace treaties, preventing wars, creating national parks, stopping monopolies, building the Panama Canal, and hand-picking a successor to keep spinning the plates that he started.

Lincoln, on the other hand, was a quiet genius who cultivated the genius of others … his cabinet, his generals, the leaders in congress, the troops in the field. He was effective in a complex, volatile environment — and Lincoln’s leadership secrets would be successful in today’s complex environment too.

Roosevelt was what researcher David Burnham calls an imperial leader. Yes, he was impact-oriented, but he saw himself as the source of power to make an impact on others. It’s a style of leadership that worked well in the world of 1900, but not in today’s environment of speed, information, and globalization.

Lincoln, on the other hand, was an interactive leader: he saw the team as the source of power, and the team had the opportunity to make an impact on everyone (including Lincoln himself). Lincoln helped them all stay focused on a purpose they believed in.

An imperial leader sees herself as the magic. An interactive leader sees the team as the magic.

An imperial leader gets others to do what is needed. Interactive leaders create conditions that engage everyone to achieve a shared purpose.

An imperial leader works as the hub of a wheel. An interactive leader works as the rim of a wheel.

How Do Interactive Leaders Think?

When researchers analyze the subliminal thoughts of leaders, they find four patterns that make interactive leaders rise above the rest:

  • Keeping authority at the appropriate level: Rather than making every decision yourself, allow the most appropriate person to make a decision — and accept shared accountability for that decision.
  • Mutual respect and involvement: See each person as your equal, and involve people in your planning and decisions.
  • Flexibility: Accept that mistakes are a part of doing business and recognize that not all mistakes will negatively affect the outcome; understand that many situations are complex rather than black-and-white.
  • Focus on results that matter: Think about the long-term results for the project and the organization; get the team involved in setting goals they can all enthusiastically support; celebrate results and offer feedback appropriate to the long-term goals.

Impact Thinking

Keep in mind: even if you practice the interactive thought patterns, if your motive is based on achievement or affiliation, you won’t produce superior results. To be an extraordinary leader, your primary motive must be impact: making a difference in people’s lives.

To truly make a difference this year, go for impact thinking.

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