How to Kill Your Impact

Jun 18, 2020

As an executive coach, my job is about impacting people who impact companies and communities. In other words, my whole business premise is helping people increase their leadership, strategy, and impact capabilities. So I’m all in on the idea of impact.

Why? Here are four reasons:

  • Because I’m called to be a giver, helper, and investor, not a taker, user, and consumer.
  • Because my faith invites me to imagine tomorrow, not just live today. As C.S. Lewis wrote seventy years ago, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
  • Because I’ve been given a few assets (my abilities, relationships, family, stuff, etc.) to steward. My understanding of stewardship is I am supposed to yield more at the end than I was apportioned in the beginning.
  • Because I’m an optimist at my core. I really believe one voice wrapped in a transparent intentional life can make an outcome difference in a family, business, or community.

It’s not just me, though. Most people want to have meaningful impact, to some degree, in the lives of others. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Impact is not just a power score or some random popularity contest. Nor is impact simply your online influence (i.e., retweets or Linked In shares). Impact is much deeper and long-lasting. It’s the change you bring about in the lives of others. It’s about changing the way people think, act, believe, live, purchase, and more.

But often we are our own worst enemy when it comes to impact. Here are the most common impact killers:

  • You become hypnotized or handcuffed to your own narrative.
  • Want to kill your impact? Don’t think about others. Just think about yourself. “It’s all about me.” This will sideline anyone’s impact … everytime. What is easiest for you, makes you happiest, has the biggest payoff for you? Making an impact requires putting yourself in second place. Perhaps we should just serve others instead of trying to have a big impact that can be recorded and replayed. Just get outside yourself.
  • You get overly busy.
  • I once heard a story of a man driving across the barren flat lands of west Texas. In the distance he saw what appeared to be a man pumping water from a well. The man was feverishly pumping up and down with no pause or break. He looked like a superhuman right out of a Marvel magazine. But the closer the driver got to the gushing water and the man, he saw that the man wasn’t pumping the water … the water was pumping the man. He was just hanging on for dear life. That is often true of our busy daily routines and schedules.
  • You are too short-sighted and impatient.
  • We live in an impatient, want it now, get it now, overnight delivery, fast-track culture. But impact is usually a long-term investment play. That doesn’t mean that any single action can’t totally revolutionize the trajectory of someone’s life. But I would propose that impact is like farming. My job is to keep the soil usable, to plant and water, and then sit back and be patient. It takes some sunshine and some time before the crop pops out of the ground.
  • You have become lazy and settled.
  • I have my routines, and I’m usually most comfortable being able to stay inside those. Life has a way of dulling our outward focus and energy. It can push us to our corner of the couch and just let us shrink away our impact and our time. Kathy Caprino in identifying “Nine Core Behaviors of People who Positively Impact the World,” a few years ago, included “They invest time and energy not in what is but what can be.”
  • You have been beaten down and have lost your want-to and optimism.
  • The pressures of life are often the poetry for our greatest impact lessons with others. But we have been duped into believing that people only need to hear how we’ve succeeded and won. That is why very few family Christmas letters share all the failures from the year. Just sayin’. Sure, the trophies and wins are interesting factoids, but usually that narrative doesn’t inspire us. But when you share your struggles and failures, I am moved with healthy emotion. I promise that will impact others.

But one thing is for sure. Having an impact will probably require a little effort and intention.

Having an impact is hard work. It takes time, patience, perseverance, and it usually requires a profound level of sacrifice. While many people are willing to bear that weight for a season, few are willing to carry it for a lifetime.

One final key to keep in mind is what Andy Crouch says in chapter 13 of his book, Culture Making; we seek impact, and we work for it, but we also realize that the power to transform ultimately lies with a God who certainly doesn’t serve our agendas or work on our timetables. That doesn’t mean we don’t try for impact. It just means that we recognize where the power for impact really lies.

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