How leaders take responsibility for their impact

Are there times when your actions or words create reactions that you did not intend or expect? Learn how your leadership game can affect your team.

Steffan Surdek
March 7, 2022
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Have you ever worked in a company where the boss gets really upset every time someone delivers bad news? Think about the impact that creates in the organization. Do employees feel free to share bad news, do they hold back the news or do they lie?

In our lives, we have a lot more impact than we care to believe on what happens around us and on the people surrounding us. This is true in a work context as well. As a leader, it is important for you to understand the impact you really have. In turn, this helps you manage it, acknowledge it and take responsibility for it.

What do we mean by impact?

Let’s start with some simple examples. Have you ever worked with someone whose default reaction is negative and who always believes something will not work? How much credibility do you give this person? Even that one time they bring up a very valid and useful point, are you paying attention to what they are saying or did you tune out as soon as they started talking?

Think back for a moment at the last meeting where there was a facilitator. Did they involve all participants in the meeting or did they speak more than anyone else? Did they let ideas emerge or did they impose their own? In this case, you can see how the facilitator's actions impact the outcomes of the meeting.

Your leadership style, or what I like to call your leadership game, also has an impact on your team. Over the years, I have come to believe that teams resemble their leaders. How a leader reacts in a crisis has a definite impact on their team. Assuming that your teams mirror back your own behaviors in some way, how do you contribute to producing the behaviors from your team that annoy you the most?

How can you start noticing your impact?

As a leader, you need to be aware of the impact of your leadership game. How well are you listening to the person you are talking to? What is the impact of your words and your listening on a conversation?

Noticing impact is something you can develop through regular practice. Consider this a muscle you may need to develop. You may not have the ability to see your impact now. That is because you are not paying much attention so it is not on your radar.

Here are some easy tips to start noticing the impact of your leadership game:

1. Develop or deepen your presence

We live in a fast-paced world and it is easy to get swept up in what is happening around you. How often have you been in a conversation but were not really listening to the person you were talking to? Try to notice the subtle elements of body language people are communicating back to you. This indicates the impact you are having on them.

Before going into a meeting, take a couple of deep breaths and take the time to really feel what is going on in your body. Be aware of what is going on in your head and let some of it go. Better yet, try to schedule taking these moments multiple times in your day. It only takes five to twenty seconds!

Another way to develop your presence is through regular meditation. One nice way to start meditating is in short bursts to build up your resistance. Instead of launching yourself into thirty-minute meditation sessions, start with five minutes for a few days and then increase gradually by five-minute increments.

2. Develop your curiosity

To become more aware of the impact your leadership game has, you need to be curious and start looking for it in your day-to-day activities. When you are in a meeting, look at the people around you. How are they reacting to what is being said? Are they reacting more strongly to some people than others? Are there particular words that are generating a reaction? What is the unsaid in their body language?

Your answers to the above are not truths, but theories that could be tainted by your own perceptions of the people and the situation. See them as an opportunity to have conversations that help validate your observations and fine-tune your radar.

How can you manage our impact?

Once you start noticing and understanding the impact you have, you can begin managing it better and letting your intentions drive your words and your actions.

Managing impact could mean becoming more aware of the outcomes of your actions. For example, I faced situations in my career where I needed to think twice before taking drastic actions, because I felt these actions would go against messages I regularly gave to my teams. I worried about the impact on my credibility as their leader and I wanted to find a way to line up my actions with my intentions.

Managing impact could also mean becoming more aware of your choice of words in certain situations. I coached teams in highly political working environments. For me, this sometimes meant I needed to make the right choice of words when answering questions from upper management. Saying things in the wrong way could cause noise, create bad perceptions or have immediate effects for the teams I was talking about.

It is also about becoming aware of the impact you personally have on certain people. Do they respect you or not? Do they like you or not? How does their perception of you influence their experience of being around you? Once you start understanding this, you can adjust your communication style and your actions accordingly. Another possibility is having an open conversation with this person to acknowledge what is happening and try to create space for more healthy communications together.

Managing your impact is having a high level awareness of all of these things and selecting a course of action to produce the right outcome. Impact is not inherently negative and can be a useful tool to achieve results. There is an important distinction between creating impact without realizing it which could affect your credibility, and creating a more powerful impact because a clear intention guides your selected course of action.

How can you take responsibility for your impact?

Start taking responsibility for the impact you have by accepting feedback from people and acknowledging the actions you are responsible for.

What big assumptions did you bring to a meeting or a conversation? How did these assumptions affect your responses? How did your responses affect others? Acknowledging your responsibility means you can recognize your own contribution to a situation through your words or your actions without excuses, apologizing if necessary and moving on from there.

Another way for you to take responsibility for your impact during a conversation is to acknowledge any unintended consequence you observe as a result of your words and actions. Vulnerability is a powerful way to take responsibility for your impact as you see it happening.


Working as a coach, I learned to be very aware of the impact I have. I learned to use this impact as part of my work with people and teams. A while ago, someone told me jokingly that I have a gift for staying calm and looking at situations from a broader perspective. I noticed the biggest impact of the calmness I bring is how it affects my clients. Because no matter the situation, it eventually calms them down the longer they talk to me.

Remember, impact is neither positive nor negative. What creates a positive impact on some people creates a negative impact on others. Managing and taking responsibility for impact is about having a clear intention to guide your actions. It is also about accepting that your actions may create something that you did not intend or expect.

As a leader, this is one of the soft skills you can master to become a better leader. To start practicing, train yourself to be aware of the consequences of your actions and react in a measured way.

What is your impact on the people around you? Are you having the impact you would like to have? What could you do differently to have a more powerful impact in your day-to-day life?