Understanding Your Impact

When I gather feedback about an executive through interviews, I always ask the executive’s peers, direct reports, etc.: “Does this executive understand his (or her) impact on you?”   Many people say, “Oh, that is an interesting question; I don’t know.  You’ll have to ask them.”  Some say, “Yes, I am sure they do understand their impact on me and on the team.”  In the work we do at Executive Coaching Network®, we find a high correlation between leaders’ ability to understand their impact on others and the perceptions of their leadership effectiveness.  In other words, a leader with a high score on “understands his/her impact on you” is usually highly rated by others on “is an effective leader.”

Understanding your impact on others is a corollary to emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence has been defined by Salovey and Mayer as, “The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth.”[1] In their Ability Based Model, Salovey and Mayer view emotions as a useful source of information to help one make sense of and negotiate the social environment.  Clearly, leaders who can use their own and others’ emotions to navigate an organization’s social environment are going to be more powerful than those who are “out of touch” with social cues.

Leaders who do not understand their impact on others tend to:

  • Extreme behavior:  Rant and rave in a business meeting.  Put phone on mute and say loudly to others things like, “We should push that ‘so-and-so’ out of the plane.”  Throw a briefcase during a meeting and pound the table.
  • Moderate:  Constantly change planned staff meetings and expect all direct reports to change their schedules (which then cascades to the next level of direct reports).
  • Subtle yet powerful:  Make eye contact, have dialogue, and listen to some members of the team while barely responding to others.

Leaders who do understand their impact on others tend to:

  • Intense behavior:  Ask for feedback on what they can do to help create the environment for success for each team member, the team overall, and the organization. Obtain 360° feedback often.  Engage in team retreats.  Hold skip-level meetings to check in and assess the culture.
  • Moderate: Spend sufficient and effective time with direct reports, peers, and boss to listen and learn.  Provide coaching and feedback. Map out how to best achieve mutually desired outcomes. Take personal inventory and keep track of how their own emotional state impacts their behavior both on and off the job.   Maintain their composure and, if triggered, remove themselves from a negative situation.
  • Subtle yet powerful: Say hello to an individual and remember something about them. Compliment for a job well done. Admit mistakes. Show humility.

The goal of any leader is to impact people in a positive way for the betterment of the organization.  So what are some ways to better understand your impact and use it to lead your organization toward success?

  • Be in touch with your emotions and their effects on your behavior to better understand how to influence people to achieve outcomes.
  • Be in touch with your own actions and their effects on other people.
  • Identify all the ways you impact others.
  • Be proactive in impacting others.
  • Know when you are likely to be effective or ineffective in your impact.
  • Learn how you impact others through your listening skills, empathy, and humility. 

Once you gain awareness about how your character, behavior, demands, body-language, and tone of voice affect your people, you can use that knowledge to create the environment where they can shine and your organization can be even more successful.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” (Margaret Thatcher)


What steps will you take to become more aware of your impact on others?

What key questions will you ask to assess how you impact others?


[1] Mayer, J. D. & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. Sluyter (Eds). Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators (pp. 3-31). New York: Basic Books

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