5 Keys to Having a Meaningful Impact at Work

Srinivas Rao
8 min readJan 18, 2022


Liz Wiseman is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley. She’s a leadership expert who teaches leadership to executives who become more effective at work and become what she defines as multiplier leaders and have a meaningful impact on their teams. She is a frequent guest lecturer at BYU and Stanford University and is a former executive at Oracle Corporation, where she worked as the vice president of Oracle University

Liz Wiseman’s latest book, Impact Players is about what separates impact players from others of equal talent and drive and enables them to have a meaningful impact. In this exclusive interview you’ll learn

  • How to bring all of your intelligence, creativity, energy, talent
  • How to do do work that matters and
  • What people who are having an inordinately high impact are doing differently than everyone else.
  • The mindset and behavior of an impact player.

You’ll learn why some people have a huge impact and you can regardless of your role within an organization.

Three Types of Employees

Liz interviewed 170 managers at 9 top employers and asked them to identify three types of employees who were, as a baseline, smart people who are talented, and hardworking: Impact players, Contributors, and Under contributors.

Managers know who these top players are, and they understand their worth. Leaders come to depend on them and give them a steady stream of high-profile assignments and new opportunities”

In other words, impact players are instrumental to the success of any team or organization. Their contributions are so valuable that they become indispensable.

1.What is an Impact Player?

meaningful impact
Photographer: Riley McCullough | Source: Unsplash

In her book, Liz Wiseman says impact players are people who make a significant contribution individually but who also have an enormous impact on the entire team.

Impact players often work behind the scenes to make the accomplishment of those in the spotlight possible.

  • Steve Jobs gets the credit but impact players like Jonathan Ive were instrumental to or the success of Apple’s products.
  • Authors get the credit for writing a book, but agents, editors and marketing teams are impact players whose work is instrumental to the success of a book.
  • Even though Steph Curry and Kevin Durant were starters, impact players like Andre Igadoula were influential players who helped the Golden State Warriors win an NBA championship.

There are certain traits that separate typical contributors from everyone and enable them to have a meaningful impact at work.

1. Don’t wait to initiate.

#interviews into articles#impact players

One of the things we find is that the impact players don’t wait to initiate. They’re impolite in a larger sense. They don’t wait for an invitation to a party to show up now. I mean that metaphorically one of my favorite parts of the research and training, the way I do research is I approach it very logically.- Liz Wiseman

You can’t have a meaningful impact when you wait to initiate, wait for someone to tell you what should do, wait to be picked, and wait to do the work. This is true for employees, artists and athletes. The people who don’t wait to initiate make themselves indispensable.

Anytime I hire someone to work with me on a project for Unmistakable Creative, I look for three specific traits.

  1. The ability to navigate ambiguity
  2. Self direction
  3. A strong Bias towards Action

In other words, these are people who will take action in the absence of clarity without being told what they need to do. The less I have to manage them, the more meaningful their impact is.

It’s better to take action when you lack clarity, then procrastinate until you have clarity. Mistakes and false starts are better than standing still because they give you feedback and the opportunity to correct course.

Doing Things Without Being Asked Builds Credibility

The Number one thing that bosses love is doing things without being asked. Bosses don’t like being bossy.They don’t like having to tell people what to do. They love it when people do things without being asked. And that builds credibility — Liz Wiseman

My absolutely favorite quality about our audio engineer Josh is that he does things without being asked. If I goof on our editorial calendar, he finds another episode to publish. He’s so good at this that I can go a month without talking to him, and we still publish 2 new podcast episodes every week

Anticipate Problems in Advance and Solve Them

Anticipate problems and have a plan to solve them, help your teammates. Do a little extra, be curious, ask good questions. Like they want people to be self-starting now I know there’s somebody listening. Bosses hate it when people bring them problems without solutions.

Anybody can come up with a list of problems. But if you want to have a meaningful impact, you need to solve problems.

The value you create increases in proportion to your ability to solve other people’s problems. This is true whether you’re an employee in an organization or an entrepreneur solving someone’s problem.

When the value you create for someone else outweighs the cost of solving the problem, then nobody will question how much they pay you.

Ramit Sethi’s copywriting course helps business owners solve the problems of growing their audience and increasing their revenues and it’s not cheap. Even though I spent 2000 dollars on the course, I’ve made that money back 10 times over because the value outweighed the cost.

2. Serve Where You’re Needed

meaningful impact
Photographer: Charles Deluvio | Source: Unsplash

Impact players bring incredible talent and drive and passion to their work. But they work on what matters to the people they work for, whether it’s a client, a boss, a stakeholder, a team. They are willing to serve where they’re needed and they become valuable, influential and impactful.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the room. Anytime you optimize for self interest over the greater good, your ego gets in the way of your ability to have a meaningful and positive impact. Societies, governments, organizations and sports teams are all interdependent systems that thrive when everyone within the system does.

When artists, athletes, and employees in an organization become self obsessed without realizing what it’s doing to them, they do so at their demise.

Ego and self obsession destroy the lives and careers of people with promising futures. Humility and contribution on the other hand enable you to thrive.

  • Manu Ginobli and Andre Igoudala both won the NBA championship by serving as the 6th man on their teams. Their individual stats might have been lower in the short run, but their overall success was far greater in the long run.
  • Tom Brady became the best quarterback in the NFL because he was willing to be a 4th string quarterback

By serving where you’re needed in the short run, and foregoing the opportunity to be center stage you’re more likely to have the opportunity to serve where you want to in the long run.

3. Focus on the whole Race

Photographer: Steven Lelham | Source: Unsplash

If you want to have a meaningful impact as an artist, founder or employee, a long term perspective combined with the profound power of consistency are your greatest competitive advantages.

Some people come out of the gates guns blazing and appear to be rockstars in the short run. But eventually they run out of steam and their performance declines. Sustainable peak performance requires you to be consistently reliable.

Being an impact player is not a tactic or item to cross off a to-do list. It’s a way of showing up in the world ALL THE TIME.

It’s this mentality of “I’m going to be a finisher, I’ve got to anticipate things that I can’t possibly anticipate. What would allow me to make sure that I finish not weakened, exhausted and burnt out, but finish with maybe even a better result than was expected.

Be the Kind of Person Who Can Receive a No Look Pass

If you consistently drop the ball, eventually people will stop passing it to you. When a task you’ve been assigned is as good as done, you not only earn the respect of your leaders, you cultivate the ability to have a meaningful impact that’s sustainable.

4.Adapt and Learn

Photographer: Brett Jordan | Source: Unsplash

In the world of a diminishing permanence that moves a 100 miles an hour, the ability to adapt, evolve and learn is essential if you want to have a meaningful impact. Individuals, organizations, and teams are an ongoing work in progress that need to constantly reinvent themselves to thrive.

Every eternal master is a lifelong student and the most valuable players in any organization or a sports team don’t rest on their laurels. They see themselves as perpetual rookies who know they need to continually adapt and learn.

Learn to Separate Feedback On Work from Feedback on You as a Person

Artists and creators are notorious for their inability to receive critical feedback. They conflate their identity with their art, and forget that their art is an expression of who they are, not a measure of their worth.

Critical feedback is far more valuable when you’re open to hearing what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear. What you want to hear might make you feel better, but what you need to hear makes your work better.

5.Match Your Talent with Your Environment

Photographer: Clark Young | Source: Unsplash

Because we all have genetic limitations and strengths, perceived Limitations and strengths, and skills that we can improve through innate curiosity and intrinsic desire to learn and improve, matching your talent with your environment increases your odds of having a meaningful impact at work.

  • A scrawny Indian like me will not have a meaningful impact on the success of a professional sports team (unless I am the owner one day).
  • If you are tone deaf, you won’t have a meaningful impact on a professional orchestra.

You have to acknowledge your limitations to capitalize on your strengths, and realize that you could be an impact player in one environment and an under contributor in another.

Having a meaningful impact at work requires a combination of patience, humility, and skill. You have to realize what’s learnable, what’s not and make long term commitment to the former if you want to become an impact player.

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Srinivas Rao

Candidate Conversations with Insanely Interesting People: Listen to the @Unmistakable Creative podcast in iTunes http://apple.co/1GfkvkP