With the escalating impacts of COVID-19, death of George Floyd, climate change and economic doom and gloom, it's easy to feel powerless. Injustice, political inaction and fear are motivating forces driving many of us to want to do more.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve joined many online calls where leaders who recognise their privilege (white, health, economic and political security), shared their frustration with all that’s currently happening in our turbulent world.
Towards the end of one such call (with 25 professional coaches from around the world), a participant called out the fact there were no people of colour on our call. There was an uncomfortable pause as this reality sank in, followed by a chorus of awakening awareness.
Yet no-one knew what we could actually do about this.
Emotion, frustration and impotence are high. Somehow it feels like unless we want to go and join a protest, there isn’t anything tangible we can do to right the world’s wrongs.
The problem is we know it’s not right but we don’t know what we can or should do to help. To make matters worse, there are so many people and communities experiencing disadvantage firsthand, it's overwhelming and we simply don’t know where to start.
Days, weeks and months will continue to pass. Known problems will intensify and new crises will emerge and still we’re sitting on our hands, talking about it but not actually doing anything useful.
But what if making a real difference wasn’t so hard?
What if there is a way to have a positive and tangible impact?
The secret to affecting lasting change lies in self-leadership. Within your beliefs, thoughts, stories, words and actions lies a powerful arsenal at your disposal, ready to be harnessed for any cause at any time.
The only thing stopping you using them is… you!
Activate Your Self-Leadership Arsenal
Once you know what you have available to you, the best opportunities to make YOUR unique difference will become clearer. Here’s how to unlock what you already have to positively impact what you care most about.
1. Unlock Your Difference - Passions, Beliefs, Biases and Blind Spots
The unique difference only you can make lies in your own passions, beliefs, biases and blind spots.
The easiest way to identify your Passions and Beliefs is to notice what triggers and outrages you. Maybe it’s a news item on the TV or in your social media feed. Perhaps it’s a conversation with someone who has a different or aligned view. Or, it could be something keeping you awake at night.
Regardless of the source, notice your emotional response – frustration, anger, urgency, enthusiasm, connection.
Emotional response triggers also surface subconscious biases and blind spots – insights and perspectives you were previously unaware of.
Identify what you’re feeling, what you believe and why you care so deeply about it. Writing a 'Care List' will help you gain conscious awareness of what’s important to you and this first step will enable you to take action.
2. Discover What Matters Most to YOU
If your Care List is very long, chances are you’ll not do anything because your focus is too broad.
Like cream floating to the top of a milk bottle, your most important issues will come into sharp focus. These are the ones directly shaped by your:
Engage your ‘Care Factor’ and notice what it is that you can’t NOT do something about!
3. Deepen Your Knowledge
Bias and ignorance can be overcome with education and communication and now is the time to immerse yourself in learning everything you can.
Research your most important passions by taking a deep dive into a wide range of sources. Seek out experts, read, listen and talk to those who share your interest. The goal of self-education is to gather broad and deep insight and further develop your own beliefs and standpoint.
If you are going to become a credible voice who people seek out and listen to, you need to know what you’re talking about. Opinions unsupported by evidence will quickly be dismissed and passion alone is not enough to effect change.
Through education you will learn what the greatest needs are and where the gaps and best opportunities exist for you to make your difference.
4. Choose Your Cause
With privilege comes choice and while there are potentially many areas where you can make a difference, your impact will be greater when you decide what you want and can have an impact on.
It doesn't matter whether it's speaking up about an injustice in your workplace or taking a stand on a global issue, they all matter and need you to take action.
While there are no rules about how many causes you can support, you’ll have a greater impact when you narrow your focus.
Next, decide what and how much you’re prepared to invest:
Wherever you choose to invest your time and effort, it will ultimately be part of your leadership legacy - that for which you'll will be remembered for, long after you've moved on.
5. Make Your Difference Count!
The most effective way to make a meaningful difference is to convert your words and intent into commitment and action.
You now have enough information to decide the impact you will have. From seemingly small actions, through to dedicating your life, there are many options in between.
Use the spectrum example below to create your own spectrum of opportunities. The further to the right you move, the higher the investment and return.
Impact Spectrum Example
Identify your starting point based on what feels right for you right now. As time goes on, you can move up or down the spectrum. The important point here is simply to begin.
6. Start with Those You Already Influence
What often stops us taking action is the belief that we can’t influence anyone and therefore we can’t have a tangible impact on anything. Luckily this simply isn’t true!
We all have connections within our existing communities – family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours, sporting or interest groups. While many won’t be interested in your cause, you may be surprised to discover who else feels driven by the same issues.
Start conversations to see who else shares your interest and beliefs. Expand these conversations to other groups you belong to and connect with those who may already be taking action.
Remember, many successful causes and organisations who have gone on to create real and lasting change, started with a discussion between 2 – 3 people around a dining room table.
7. Find YOUR Tribe
These are the people with whom you share a common bond and passion. Although like-minded, the most successful tribes are those who encourage diversity. It’s far easier to make your difference count when you feel supported. Align with those who have a shared ambition whilst harnessing diverse viewpoints and skills.
The ripple effect of making your difference with a committed community is like compound interest. Each small action you take may not amount to much by itself. But remember, it’s the consistently combined efforts of your tribe (of which you are an active member), that will have the greatest impact.
A word of caution about tribes – you may disagree with others’ ideas and it’s easy to become disillusioned when you believe your tribe may be focusing on the wrong things.
Accept the disconnect while staying focused on the bigger picture – the ultimate goal – and redirect your leadership to the greater good.
8. Decide What IS Yours to Do and What is NOT
One of the risks of throwing yourself wholeheartedly into a cause is burnout. Rallying your drive, energy and sense of injustice, you could enthusiastically dive into the deep end only to find yourself floundering. Becoming all-consumed by your cause is understandable but it can come at a cost.
Before you know it, you’ve over-committed yourself and compromised unrelated areas of your life. Time converted to your cause could also be spent with your family which creates highly flammable fuel for guilt.
The solution is to create boundaries. Focus on what you can and are willing to do while being clear and comfortable about what others can and should do. It may be tempting to think you can do it all quicker and better, but this too is a trap!
Leadership is all about enabling others and your biggest impact and best difference may come from mentoring and developing those on the front line.
9. Be Flexible and Opportunistic
There’s no rule that says you have to devote your time and effort to one single cause or in one particular way. As time moves on, new opportunities will appear that create an even better platform from which to make your difference.
Recognise when your work there is 'done', your difference is made and it is time to move on. Emerging opportunities are limitless. Being open to them will help you grow and create a greater difference in a whole new way.
While there will always be more to do, the decision to move along the Impact Spectrum or to another cause is yours.
10. Be Brave and Fearless
These turbulent times are calling us all to be more courageous. For those of us fortunate enough to enjoy privilege, it’s not enough to sit back and hope that others will step forward.
We want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and say,
“That was wrong and here’s what I did to change it.”
We don’t all have to be placard carrying protesters. But we each have a unique combination of resources ready to activate to make the world a better place. When we shed our complacency and actively stand in our truth, we can create the change that has to happen.
Whatever your passion and desired impact, there’s never been a better time to stand up, be courageous and make your difference count.
Still not sure what you could or should do?
Let's figure it out together.