Liz Wiseman: What are Impact Players and Why are They Important to Your Organisation?

In: BlogDate: Nov 22, 2022By: Claire Lickman

Liz Wiseman is the CEO of The Wiseman Group, a talent development and research organisation in Silicon Valley, California. Liz is also the author of bestsellers Multipliers and Impact Players, and is consistently rated by Thinkers50 as a top ranked thinker.

In her book Impact Players, Liz identifies two types of people: Ordinary Contributors and Impact Players, and noted that there were five practices that differentiated the Impact Players from the Ordinary Contributors. In this video, from the 2022 Happy Workplaces Conference, Liz tells us more about the concept and takes us through the five characteristics of Impact Players.

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Liz Wiseman on Impact Players at the 2022 Happy Workplaces Conference

Part 1

Maureen: Well Liz is our final speaker for today. And I'm so happy to have you here Liz, I think we are all happy to have you here. Liz is the best-selling author of Multipliers and Impact Players, and has been rated in the top 20 management gurus and thinkers. She’ll explain what the five practices are that differentiate ‘Impact Players’ from their ‘Contributors’. Liz, over to you.

Liz: Ok, Maureen, thank you so much. And Henry and team, thank you for inviting me to be here. I hope to share a few ideas to get some thinking going; and I'm going to present for about 9 minutes, then we'll have a 5-minute discussion and come back and do it again. I guess that is the Happy Conference formula. 

Henry: That's the way!

Liz: I want to start with a moment in sports. Now my guess is that we’ve all watched some team sports and I would ask you to pick your favourite team sport, and if you want, just to anchor our conversation, try to put that in chat. What is a favourite team sport for me? Basketball is kind of happening right now. I have to admit I kind of like American Football, and love watching football all around the world. Ok, everyone's got it, we've got football, international football, handball, cycling, volleyball, rowing… [Laughs] My son is watching me and he says football! Ok, I want you to go to that sport, and you're watching a team, and it's a big game, and it's a big moment in this game; and I want to just anchor in a moment that we've all experienced: it’s a big game, a big moment, and the players come to a halt for some reason. Maybe it's between plays, maybe the coach has called a timeout, and the coach has to decide who to put into the game, who to put out on the court, onto the pitch,  maybe who to put, I guess we've got rowing here, who to put in the scull skeg. And there may be a number of strong and capable athletes available but the coach picks one particular player, and it may not be the strongest or the fastest but it's the one who understands the moment, who understands the game, who's been watching the game, who understands what needs to be done and who will go out there and make the play. Not to showboat but to help secure a win for the team, and they are the player who will get the job done; but everyone around them gets their job done as well. Now, in the world of sports we call them Impact Players, they have a huge impact on the game but they also have a huge impact on the team. What I've done is spent some time looking at the Impact Players of the work world and these people who are really making a difference, and what they do differently than everyone else. And how small, seemingly insignificant, differences in how we seem and how we act can end up having a pretty profound impact in the value we create, in the influence that we have, and the impact we have on organisations, and I guess the world if you want to think that broadly. 

Let me just quickly describe the essence of the research and then we'll get to what we found and the differences between Impact Players and what I call Ordinary Contributors. 

So my team and I went out to nine different organisations and we interviewed and surveyed 170 managers from these organisations; and we asked them to identify two people that they had led, had managed, either in a previous job or in their current role. Both of whom were smart, capable and hard-working, one of whom was doing well and one of whom was making an extraordinary impact and delivering incredible value. And we call the first:  Contributors, and the second: Impact Players. Here's what we found: the first thing that was interesting was how the leaders spoke about these Impact Players; they talked about them with respect, almost with like a reverence and they talked about the value that they contributed was in aggregate 3 and 1/2 times greater, not than sort of average people or low performers, people who were doing a fine job. I was also really struck by how these managers talked about the person they had identified as a ‘typical contributor’ because they were rock solid contributors. The manager's described them as people who did the job well, often doing their job brilliantly; they followed direction, they took ownership, they were focused, they focused on the goal and they carried their weight on teams. And I looked at this collective profile and I was struck by the thought that isn't this the ideal team player?  Isn't this the kind of person you would want to hire? Well it turned out that the Ordinary Contributors were absolutely stellar in ordinary times but in times of uncertainty, in times of a little bit of chaos they tended to fall short and their way of working and their way of thinking  fell short as well.

There are five situations, in particular, that the Impact Players handled differently from the ordinary, and rock solid, contributors:

  • The first was messy problems: does it belong to this group or that group? It's not his job, it's not my job. It's just sort of complex and interdisciplinary. 
  • Unclear roles: where it is not entirely clear who's leading this initiative or project or meeting. Like we are collaborating but we are unclear who's in charge.
  • Unforeseen obstacles: where it’s something unprecedented that we couldn't have planned for, where it's not even reasonable to put it into a contingency plan, drops in uninvited and unannounced. 
  • When the targets are moving, the environment’s changing, the situation’s are changing, the goal is moving whilst we are shooting at the goal.
  • And then lastly: the unrelenting demands. Where the workload is increasing faster than the resources are increasing, when, and I know some of us just feel this right now, when there's more work than we can humanly get done in a given work day.

These were the five situations, and what's common across these is that they're fraught with ambiguity, uncertainty; when things feel a little out of control  these are the situations when the Impact Players tend to take control.

Now I'm going to go through five, the five differences we found between the Contributor and the Impact Player. We're going to do three of them first, then we're going to take a break, we're going to talk about them, and then I'll do the last two and kind of like a fundamental difference in mindset.

Now, each one of these situations is a choice point and it's a choice between something good, something entirely reasonable, and something that perhaps is a little bit braver. 

Ok, here's the first: what do you do when you're dealing with a really messy problem? Do you know? Do you stay in your lane? Or do you venture out into this messy space? This messy middle, this kind of No Man's Land. I've got a few little gifs that just capture the differences. You know, in these situations the Ordinary Contributors do their job, and they do their job well. But sometimes they are doing their job so well that they don't see the real job to be done. Like they are so focused, with their head down, that they don't see what's happening around them. In these same situations the Impact Player isn't doing their job, they are doing the job that needs to be done. They're paying attention to what's going on around them, they are seeing unmet needs, they venture out kind of like this man: he sees a woman is trying to get across the road, he ventures out of his car and it's not like he abandons that job forever, but they venture out. They are rangey and get the job done. 

I'll show you, I'll share a quick example of each. This is Jojo Mirador who is a scrub tech at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Centre, a scrub tech probably being the lowest skilled job in the operating room. Now, the Santa Clara Valley Medical Centre is on the rotation for the Stanford University surgical residency program, so this is where the surgeons in training do some of their surgical work. 

Well, Jojo's job as a scrub tech is to have those instruments sterile, ready and to hand those instruments to the surgeons when they ask for those instruments during the procedure. What Jojo does is he not only has those instruments ready but he has them laid out in the order that they are going to be used, so that they are ready when they're asked for. While other surgical techs are listening for the requests Jojo is watching. He's watching the surgeon’s hands so he knows exactly what they're doing and the move that they're going to need to make next. So he's ready to go and when he's asked for an instrument he doesn't just hand the surgeon the instrument that he or she asked for, he has the instrument that he knows the surgeon needs. You see this is a teaching hospital and some of the surgeons are young, some of the surgeons are in training, and they don't always know the best instrument and he doesn't hand it over with an insistence, he has the instruments and says ‘you know what why don't you try this one, I think it might do the job better’, but it’s not only the young surgeons in training who appreciate that he doesn't just do his job but does the job that's needed, even the experienced surgeons seek him out in advance of a procedure. They say Jojo this is the procedure we are doing today, what are the instruments that you think will do this job the best? 

Okay, number 2: what do you do when roles are unclear? What do you do when you know you're in a collaboration but it's unclear who's in charge of that meeting? Or when you see an ambient problem, a problem that just has persisted, where it's not a catastrophe but it's a sub-optimal situation? Do you let that be or do you step up and take the lead? What we find in these situations is that the ordinary contributor is a ready leader, a willing leader, but they are a leader-in-waiting, they’re waiting for somebody to call them up, to take the lead. Whereas in these kinds of situations the Impact Players are quick to step up, to take charge, to fill that leadership void; but they don't just step up and take over and insist on being the perpetual leader, they're willing to step back. And like this flock of migrating geese that migrate into that lead, one bird provides that leadership and then when it tires it falls back and lets another of the birds take over. They are often willing to go into places they haven't yet been invited. Now, I asked you to identify your favourite team sport; This is Nadia Popovici  and her favourite team support is very clearly hockey, and here she is at one of the games of the Seattle Kraken, this ice hockey team. And the Kraken is, I guess, some sea monster: you can see that from her hat; and she's 22 years old, she's a big fan of the team, she goes to the game with her parents. She is an aspiring physician, she wants to go to medical school and in preparation to go to medical school she had been working as a volunteer to a nurse, as an unpaid nurses assistant. She was at one of these games, it was the Seattle Kraken against the Vancouver Canucks. She was sitting behind the player box of the opposing team when she noticed this man in the blue jacket: Brian Hamilton, who is the assistant equipment manager for the opposing team. A man she had no relation to, no obligation to, it's the opposite team. Well, she's sitting behind the box and she notices that on the back of his neck is a mole that looks troublesome to her; working as an assistant to a nurse she had learnt some of the signs of potentially cancerous moles. She doesn't like the mole. Now, what would you do in this situation? What should she do? So she thinks ‘that mole doesn't look good. I don't like the irregularity of it, I don't like this, I don't like that.’. Most of us would have probably said ‘Man, I hope he goes and gets that checked out. I hope someone tells him about this.’ Well, that's not what she did. She typed out a message on her phone that said: ‘The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. please go and see a doctor.’. And she flashes it up on the screen, on the plexiglass, during the game and she's trying to get his attention. And you can imagine he's thinking she’s a weirdo! Who does that? And you know, the game is over, she leaves, he leaves and he kind of pays no heed to this; but then he starts to think about it and he's like ‘well maybe I should get that checked out?’, he goes to the doctor, he gets it checked out, it is indeed a troublesome, cancerous mole. And the doctor said ‘That young woman probably saved your life; 2 years from now this would have been a very. very difficult situation.’. The team finds her on social media, invites her to a game, and awards her a $10,000 scholarship for when she goes to medical school. You know, the Impact Players think ‘this is not my job, it's not my role, it's out of my place, but let's step up and take the lead in this situation and create value for other people.’.

Unforeseen obstacles. What do you do when something completely out of your control, out of scope, drops in unannounced? Most people, the ordinary contributor, they take responsibility, they take ownership; but when something gets unreasonable they come to a stop, they hand it off. It looks a little like this, like going along just fine until you get to the obstacle and then you're like nope, and then they hand it off to higher ups. And what we find in this case is the Impact Players just hold on longer and they get things across the finish line, not by exhausting themselves alone, they rally support, but they keep ownership of it and they work together to get across the finish line. It looks a bit like the way a team of sled dogs works, particularly like the husky malamute that’s built for endurance, this breed of sled dog that can finish a race with the same vitals that it began with. They're actually made stronger by getting things across the finish line.

I'm going to show this one last example and then I'm going to ask you to think about which of these situations are you grappling with right now. 

This is Stephen Squyres, he's an astronomy professor from Cornell who assembled the team, I don't know, about 20 years ago to put a proposal together for NASA to build a Mars Rover. Some of you might be familiar with this story; they were to build a Rover, it looks like this, and it would roam around the surface of Mars to take pictures. It needed to survive on Mars for 90 sols, which is 93 Earth days. It would, of course, be powered by solar power; the solar panels were arrayed into strings that fit on to the Rover. Now, the Rover had to fit into an existing lander that NASA had; the lander being the thing that encases it on its journey to Mars and then delivers it to the surface of Mars and is basically it’s crate and it’s carrier.  They needed 48 months to get this done, NASA gave them 34. They had to launch in a certain window, when Earth and Mars were in a favourable rotational position. Well, part way through the project Squyres got this note from one of the jet propulsion lab project scientists and it was just titled: bad news. It said: Mass limitations mean we can only fit 27 strings of solar panels on to the Rover. But they needed 30 to ensure this 90 sol lifespan, but increasing the Rover size to fit those 30 strings meant that the Rover wouldn't fit into the existing lander. I just want you to pause with me for a moment. What do you do if you're Squyres? You're already operating almost a year short of the time you need to do this and now you find that your Rover cannot fit into the lander, and it won't last for the 90 sols. So, he's like: game over. We're going to miss our launch. We're going to miss it, not by a few months, we're going to miss it by 4 years; that was when the next window would open up. He got thinking about it and he thought ‘you know, we're going to have to build a new lander. I know it's inconvenient but we're going to have to find a way to do it. But actually if we have to build a new lander then this is an opportunity to design the Rover without the constraints of the existing lander. We can now design the Rover that we, as scientists, always wanted to build.’. So, they redesigned it, they got that working, they launched it, landed on Mars; it survived those 90 sols and more. That Rover operated for 14 ½ years. See? Not just finishing but finishing stronger. 

Ok, so my question is, and this is what I would love to prompt a conversation about. I think there's going to be breakout groups and it's like a three-part question. Here are the first three practices out of the five: messy problems, unclear roles and unseen obstacles; and the difference between how Impact Players and Contributors handle them. The question is: Which of these challenges are you dealing with now? And in that challenge how would  someone with a contributor mindset approach it?  And how would someone with an Impact Player mindset approach it? Or, maybe put more simply, given this challenge that you're dealing with,how would an Impact Player approach it? 

Part 2

Henry: So, Liz, are there downsides to this? Do you want everyone to be an Impact Player?

Liz: Well I do. I do and I don't know. Well, let me make a statement I don't think I entirely believe, and that is that I think we can have an entire team of Impact Players. 

Henry: Yup.

Liz: Here's why: it's because in my interviewing I hear managers talk about 170 of these Impact Players, and then we do a deep dive on about 50, and there's a good 30 of them that I've written about, that I know well and I've had multiple conversations with. And these aren't these kind of, they're not like celebrity superstars where you're like ‘uh, you could only have so many of these players on the team’, they're like Primadonnas, they take up a lot of space, they take up a lot of the salary for the franchise so that you can't afford other players because you are paying these people huge contracts. This is not the case at all. I couldn't find a single one of these 170 that was self-centred. I couldn't find a single one that was sort of a bully, I kind of assumed that a lot of them would be, maybe brilliant and talented, but maybe a bit of a Primadonna too. And it just wasn't the case. These were people that were admired by their peers, they were team players not superstars; and I actually think theoretically it's possible maybe, not to have everyone that's in a visible, high influence, high power, high impact role, but everyone working with impact and not just doing their jobs. So, I think it's theoretically possible... So I say that with the caveat of: yeah, maybe there might just be roles for people doing the 'steady eddie' job at something, and part of the reason I say this is because it creates such a rewarding and fulfilling work experience that I think it's a worthwhile goal. 

Now, Henry, if we have more questions can we pause here? I can kind of round out the last two of these characteristics and then open it up for another discussion. 

Henry: Go on, round out the last two and we'll... Actually, go on, just one more question from Kim. Which was: is it an innate skill or can you learn it? 

Liz: So it is a... I so wish I could say ‘yes it's totally learnable’, I'm a natural optimist and I have spent my whole career in learning and development, and I want to believe that all of these characteristics and mindsets are learnable; but it is not true. There are some of them that I wouldn't say that they were innate, but they definitely are harder to learn, and harder to coach. 

In the book there's a chart, I think it's on page 239 or something, we did a secondary piece of research where we took all of the mindsets and practises of the Impact Players and then asked a group of global elite coaches: In your experience, how coachable are these mindsets and behaviours? And the ones that came out as least coachable... I'm going to have to refer to my list because I think I can remember about half of it but not all of it...

Okay, here we go, here is what shows up: Most, no let's go right to least coachable mindsets: internal locus of control; like the sense of ‘I am not a victim in this situation, I can take charge of it’. You know, I think we could all maybe think of a friend that we've tried to coach, to know you can really affect the situation, and you see them really struggle with, that this is one that's harder to coach. This sort of opportunity mindset where you're like: I can turn a threatening situation into an opportunity to add value, I said desperately I want that to be easily coached but I actually think that's difficult for most people to change this ability, to want to both lead and follow, like the sense of informality, of I don't need formal authority to take charge; that tends to be a mindset that people come into the workplace with, and it's a bit harder to shift than some of the other things.

So, there's more, [laughs] and one of my favourites... Henry, you're going to hate this. It shows up on the list as coachable and I hate it that it's there too: but bringing fun, bringing a sense of humour and fun and levity to make difficult situations easier. [Shouts] You would think that this is so coachable! 

Henry: Oh, no. No, I don't think you would.

Liz: Arrrrgh! There's a lot of parts that are coachable, and I think my message to companies and teams that want to increase their number of Impact Players is this, if you want to create an environment where people can have a lot of impact is: hire for the less coachable and then spend all of your coaching energy, the training and development energy, on the ones that are easily learnt and easily coached. 

Henry: Go ahead and carry on with the next two, Liz.

Liz: Okay! Yeah, sure, let me go to the next.

The fourth is how we deal with things in flux, when the targets are moving and the environment is changing, when things are changing do you hold onto what you know works? Or do you let go and make an adjustment? And what we find is that the ordinary contributor, they are dutiful, and the theme throughout this, and they tend to stick to what they know, or stick to the goal that they've been given, and it looks a little bit like this. It's seen in the mind as heroic and stoic, like I'm going to stick with it. And, in the same situations the Impact Players are adapting; and the mascot I would give to this part of the mindset is a chameleon: it's like adapting and adjusting and changing our colours to fit the environment. 

I want to share with you my very favourite example of an Impact Player: and this is Sean van der Hoeven who works on my team. Now let me contrast them with someone who is a brilliant listener: I worked with someone who's a brilliant listener, whenever he detected feedback he would stop, and he would lock in, and he would ask questions, and ask is there more? And he would then repeat back verbatim the feedback, so that I understood that he understood what I was saying, but then I noticed that he never did anything differently. He was a brilliant listener but he was listening to please and placate the people around him.

And then there is this man: Sean van der Hoeven. When you start a piece of work he asks questions like: what does the target look like? What are we trying to do? What do we want to build here? What does success look like? And then he goes to work on something, he does a piece of work and he shares it with his colleagues, or shares it with me, and then he asks questions like: are you getting what you need? What do you need me to do differently? Is it getting the job done? On the rare occasion when Sean’s work is off the mark it's so easy to just tell him to him straight, and not have to put caveats in and to put feel good things in to appease his ego, you just tell it to him straight, and he goes: you know what? Let me rework this. And he comes back and hits a bullseye. He is listening to adjust rather than listening to appease, this is the way of the Impact Player. Rather than... they don't just take feedback well, they are constantly seeking it: what do I need to do differently to be staying on the mark? 

And lastly, unrelenting demands. What do you do when the workload just feels heavy? Do we look to others to relieve it?  Or do we end up providing that kind of relief ourselves? The ordinary contributor, they work hard, they carry their weight, but when things get really tough they end up adding to the burden of already overtaxed managers. It's like they're making something hard just feel a little bit harder.

[We hear Henry laughing at the GIF of a cat jumping on a toddlers back and knocking him over in the snow]

Sometimes they are high maintenance, sometimes they're just difficult to work with. The Impact Players consistently made work lighter for other people, they took a hard job and made it just feel easier; and, you know, sometimes they lend a hand, but more often it's that they are low-maintenance or easy to work with. You know, an ounce of leadership goes a really long way. And they are often people that bring a sense of levity, of fun, which is: I can't lighten your load, but I can make the load feel lighter to carry, because I'm not taking myself too seriously. And they help other people to bear their burdens with ease. 

Let me share one story and then we'll open this up.

A dear colleague of mine, we've never worked together, but she's just a wonderful colleague. She's the Director of Technical Writing at Salesforce, the global software firm. She has a big job there and she's also a parent of three teenagers; and one of her children, her son, was struggling with some really difficult mental health issues. Those issues have spiked and gotten to a point where things were really really bad for him. So she and her husband decided to both take a leave of absence. Her husband was already at home with him but they both wanted to be at home as he was going through a very, very difficult time.

As she was leaving her job, and going on a leave of absence, she put a blog out into the company intranet and it just described the challenges that her family was dealing with, and the challenges that her son was dealing with, and what it felt for her as a parent, and why she was leaving her job for a time to go and take care of him.

Well, that blog was shared and, I think, read by about 15,000 people inside the company. As she left one of her colleagues, a woman named Lynne said: ‘you know what? Let's make cranes for Sue,’ and she described this tradition, this Japanese tradition, and it's called Orizuru or a thousand cranes. A crane represents healing for someone who is suffering. So Lynne started making cranes and then she invited some people in the department to join her, at lunch, to make cranes. And then word got out, word spread, and soon people literally all over the world, at Salesforce, were making cranes, taking lunch breaks to spend folding cranes, putting them in the company mail, mailing them back to Lynne. Then there were streaming parties as they strung these cranes into strings and hung them from poles. And when Sue returned to work her colleagues invited her to the conference room, and in the conference room were all of these cranes strung on poles. There weren't 1,000 of them, there were 3,144 of these cranes. And it was a way of just saying: 'you know what? We can't solve your problem, we can't help your son directly, but we can understand that you are hurting, and your son is hurting and we can just be there to support you. We can make this burden you are carrying just feel a little bit lighter.'

I think a lot of people are struggling right now and we can either take the hard work and make it harder or we can just choose to make work light for the people around us, and to create that I think is a good experience for ourselves, you know. 

Here is what we find they do differently, you know if there's a fundamental difference it looks like this. And in our breakout Paul was talking about his colleague Nikki who, when there's a big obstacle, she might get flummoxed initially, but then she moved towards this and finds a way to figure out how to deal with COVID, how to deal with hybrid learning. When you're standing at the ocean shore, and there's a big wave coming towards you, do you do what I tend to do when there's a big wave? Which is turn and run inevitably getting caught in the wave; tossed and tumbled, and standing up again to get caught in another wave and tossed and tumbled again. Do I do what my son does? What an experienced ocean surfer does? Which is, you probably know what the experienced surfer does, when they see these waves they don't move away from them, they move towards them. And they don't let them crash on them, they dive into the wave and through it to the other side, where it's safe and where they can play in those waves.

If I had to boil the difference down it's that the Ordinary Contributor mindset is one where we are seeing the world through a lens of threat; there is a bee, and where there may be a bee there may be a swarm, so let's run. Versus the Impact Player who says: I see a bee. Maybe there are more? I wonder if we can attract more? And I'm going to go and build hives and make honey out of this situation. 

My question is this, and we can do an open discussion or breakout, Henry, whichever you and your team want. And it's this: maybe take one of your current challenges and say what does it look like through an opportunity lens? How might this be a chance to be useful? To provide leadership? Maybe to reinvent and do it a better way, maybe it's the reason to adapt, change and build new capabilities. And, maybe, this unrelenting burden is actually a reason for us to band together. 

Part 3

Henry: Zahid came up with an interesting point: do Impact Players end up having to do all of the work? Because the Contributors pass all the stuff on to them?

Liz:  Here's what I see: they end up with the most important work because their leaders are passing on the most important work to them. I don't think there are people who are dumping grounds for other people's work, because their leaders know them; that's one of the things that was so obvious with the research that when you ask managers to identify an Impact Player they're like ‘Oh yeah I know who this is’, they can name them, and they protect them. They're not the people that managers are going to let burn out and go unnoticed. Now it's possible that they go unnoticed to the broader organisation, because their manager protects them but doesn't share them necessarily, that is a potential downside. And I think there is definitely a dynamic where Impact Players are doing work that's behind the scenes and quiet and that it's not seen by the larger organisation. I think that is a real issue. But I don't think they become victims of people saying: ‘Give it to Mikey, Mikey will do it’. [Henry laughs]

Because they're manager's go: ‘nope Mikey’s the guy that I need to give the really important high-stakes work to.’ 

Participant:  I think just one thing about that, Liz: what we found was that if you're not careful the Impact Players can rob the Contributors from learning, or learning from their mistakes. And also, just like you. all of our Impact Players have been incredibly humble so they...

I will never... you know it's actually a key quality as far as I can see so they will never sort of shout about it but I worry that they get crushed with more and more work, not because somebody's dumping it on them, but because they are taking it and those people don't even realise that it's been taken. So, it's that kind of clear communication between Impact Players and the organisation. Let's say the Contributor, it's just their worldview that they don't realise ‘actually I'm only contributing because the other people are taking it away’, they're not actually communicating it to them because they're coming off too nice. So, that's a sort of problem. And, also, we don't have hierarchy so there's no manager who's protecting, or telling anyone, or saying... So that's another issue for us is that we don't have that.

Liz: I think that’s a very real issue, you know, when that's done sort of invisibly. And the Impact Players, I always just sort of go back to  ‘what does the data say? The evidence?’, and of the Impact Players we studied there was a range of workism amongst that group, their work was sort of their life, they poured themselves into their work, they worked a lot; they loved it. None of them were like ‘oh I hate my job!’ but, you know, their work was consuming. And then there were others: they had very clear boundaries; and probably the principle here is that the Impact Players in organisations tend to amass influence. They add value, they create impact and they have a lot of influence. And people use that influence in different ways: some of them use that influence to rise in organisations and end up with huge jobs and heavy workloads, and others use their influence to pick and choose what they want to work on. Like, ‘no, not that, not that, this is the thing where I can have impact’ and they spent their influence, in some ways, protecting their personal life and getting the pick of the litter in their work. But there's a range.

Henry: Okay. If you're leaving please do fill out a feedback form, it's in there, and one last question from Caroline, one last question.

Caroline: Okay, sorry this is just a quick one: I've just become a CEO and I think I'm just wondering about how to support... how do Impact Players deal with other Impact Players? And how do you manage Impact Players and Contributors to make sure everyone's getting what they need? And is there a, sort of, built-in issue between Impact Players and other Impact Players within a sort of managerial system?

 Liz: Can you say a little bit more because I'm having a problem trying to understand the problem we are trying to solve?

Caroline: Well the problem, it's not a problem so much, it's that I'm trying to do the best I can for my team. And I can see the Impact Players in my team, and I can see the Contributors in my team, and I want to make sure that I'm supporting each of them, you know, in the best way without... 

Liz: I see...

Caroline: You know? If everyone is either a Contributor or an Impact Player how do these positions interact with the other type of person inside a managerial setting? You know, what I mean does a Contributor, who's managing an Impact Player, ever get a bit jealous or difficult or do Impact Players get a bit protective of themselves vs other Impact Players? Those kinds of questions.

Liz: What I mostly find is that the other team members have a positive association with the Impact Players in general. There tends to be like… If I were in your shoes, as a CEO of this organisation, rather than thinking about how to put them in separate corrals I would think about: how do you create crossover and how do you create contagion between the Impact Players? So, I wouldn't separate them, I would try to infect those with the Contributor mindset with those with an Impact Player mindset. There's a chapter in the book on ‘how do you build a team of Impact Players’, and there is a little section there on ‘how do you spread those positive behaviours’, but, and I'm not saying ‘go get the book and read that’, but the theme I would keep is it's just contagion if I were you. How do I make the Impact Player mindset contagious but see if I can contain the Contributor mindset?

[Henry laughs]

Caroline: Okay. Okay, thank you.

Liz:  And I think that can be done but it's containment and contagion.

Caroline: Okay, thank you.

Henry: Okay folks, I think we can end there. If you want a copy of this book, Impact Players, make sure you complete the feedback form because otherwise we won't know your address. So, make sure you complete that.

Liz, that was fabulous. I loved, we all loved the gifs, but I especially love the stories that you gave us of the specific examples, and very moving stories, but specific examples of each of the five Impact Player things.  So, brilliant as always Liz.

Liz: Thank you. It's a delight to be here. It's a happy group. I wore my most colourful, flowery shirt for Henry's approval and all of your people.

Henry: Excellent! 

Liz: And I'm just loving all of the colour. I think in many ways my work is all about how to create workplaces where people want to go...

Henry: Yes.

Liz: ... where people contribute to their fullest and where the experience of working feels exhilarating not exhausting. So, I thank you for the work that you're doing to just make work life more colourful and more meaningful.

Henry: [Laughs] Absolutely! So, thank you so much Liz.

Liz: My hats off to you with all of your beautiful colour.

Maureen: Can we all unmute and give Liz a round of applause?

Henry: Yes, unmute and give Liz a clap, absolutely.


Liz: Thank you!

Liz Wiseman's job is spotting talent and finding ways to nurture it. She looks at the business world, researches how people work differently and picks out trends and characteristics which she can then teach to other people.

When thinking about Impact Players Liz was influenced by the world of sports, she described those key decisions that coaches make, in all sports, when a change needs to be made in order to clinch a win: "The coach picks one particular player, and it may not be the strongest or the fastest but it's the one who understands the moment, who understands the game, who's been watching the game, who understands what needs to be done and who will go out there and make the play. Not to showboat but to help secure a win for the team, and they are the player who will get the job done; but everyone around them gets their job done as well. Now, in the world of sports we call them impact players, they have a huge impact on the game but they also have a huge impact on the team."

Liz and her team wanted to look at Impact Players in the world of work to see how they impacted the organisations and found that often small differences in how Impact Players acted could really add value and often have a profound impact. The research was carried out across nine different organisations and 170 managers from those companies were interviewed and surveyed.

"We asked them to identify two people that they had led, had managed, either in a previous job or in their current role. Both of whom were smart, capable and hard-working, one of whom was doing well and one of whom was making an extraordinary impact and delivering incredible value. And we call the first: contributors, and the second: Impact Players."

In this video Liz tells us the stories of some Impact Players she’s encountered and uses these accounts to demonstrate the five characteristics that mark Impact Players out from Ordinary Contributors.

What you will learn in this video:

  • What is an Impact Player and what their managers say they add to organisations
  • The five situations that Impact Players handle differently from Ordinary Contributors 
  • Real life stories showing how each of these manifest: Messy Problems, Unclear Roles, Unforeseen Obstacles, Things in Flux, and Unrelenting Demands
  • If there are downsides to Impact Players
  • If being an Impact Player is coachable
  • Will Impact Players get left with all of the work? Do you need to protect them?
  • How do you manage a mixed team of both Impact Players and Ordinary Contributors?

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About Liz Wiseman

Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world.

She is the author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, and Wall Street Journal bestseller Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact.

She is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. Some of her recent clients include: Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Tesla, and Twitter. Liz has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking, and in 2019 was recognized as a top leadership thinker in the world.

She has conducted significant research in the field of leadership and collective intelligence and writes for Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and a variety of other business and leadership journals. 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 and as the global leader for Human Resource Development.

You can connect with Liz on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Next Conference: 2025 Happy Workplaces Conference

Our Happy Workplaces Conference is our biggest event of the year, and we'd love for you to join us on Wednesday 25th June!

Our 2024 event was our first ever hybrid event, and so we hope to run next year's in the same way. We will host up to 50 people face-to-face at Happy's HQ in Aldgate, London, and we can host up to 200 people online via Zoom. However you choose to join, there will be interaction, discussion, space for reflection and opportunities to network with others.

Stay tuned for full details of our speakers for next year's event. As always, our speakers share practical, hands-on ideas that you can implement to create happy and engaged workplaces.

Find out more