June 13, 2024

Cultivating Champions: The Impact Player’s Playbook

CMOs face immense pressure to drive growth and deliver results, often with limited resources. To succeed, they need laser focus, courage, and a formidable team. Enter, the impact player. 

In this riveting episode, Liz Wiseman offers deep insights from her popular book, Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. Tune in as Liz details the five key practices that differentiate impact players from ordinary contributors, discussing how CMOs can amplify their own impact, while nurturing high-caliber talent. 

Get ready to propel your team’s effectiveness, outpace the competition, and enhance your leadership. This is a masterclass for anyone aiming to uncover the latent potential within their existing team or to assemble a new powerhouse of top performers. Don’t miss it!

What You’ll Learn 

  • The difference between an ordinary contributor and impact player 
  • The common qualities of impact players 
  • How to build a team of impact players 

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 401 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned 


  • [2:19] Meet Liz Wiseman  
  • [5:21] Ordinary Contributors vs. Impact Players  
  • [8:17] An “impact player” story  
  • [13:29] #1: Do the job that’s needed  
  • [17:44] #2: Step up and then step back  
  • [20:31] #3: Finish stronger  
  • [24:55] #4: Ask and adjust  
  • [26:54] #5: Make work light  
  • [32:53] How many impact players should I have on my team?   
  • [37:53] Can you train impact players?   
  • [39:28] Common traits of impact players?   
  • [46:50] Setting guardrails

Highlighted Quotes

“Impact players aren’t waiting to be anointed, they’re not waiting to be asked. They’re stepping up and leading” —Liz Wiseman, Author of Impact Players

“Impact players are quick to lead, but they’re also quick to step back and create room for other people, which is why people don’t tend to resent them.” —Liz Wiseman, Author of Impact Players

“If you want an entire team of impact players, you’ve got to be the kind of person who tracks and celebrates the assists—not just the person who spikes the ball, but the person who consistently sets up the ball.” —Liz Wiseman, Author of Impact Players

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Liz Wiseman

Drew: Hey, it’s Drew. Welcome to another episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This show is brought to you by CMO Huddles, the only marketing community dedicated to B2B greatness, and that donates 1% of revenue to the Global Penguin Society. Wait, what? Yeah, it’s kind of weird, isn’t it? But let me explain. It turns out that B2B CMOs and penguins have a lot in common. Both are highly curious and remarkable problem solvers. Both prevail in harsh environments by working together with peers, and both are remarkably mediagenic. And just as a group of penguins is called a Huddle, our community of over 400 B2B marketing leaders huddle together to gain confidence, colleagues, and coverage. If you’re a B2B CMO who can share, care, and dare with the best of them, do yourself a favor and dive into CMO Huddles. We even have a free starter program. Now let’s get to the episode.

Narrator: Welcome to Renegade Marketers Unite, possibly the best weekly podcast for CMOs and everyone else looking for innovative ways to transform their brand, drive demand, and just plain cut through. Proving that B2B does not mean boring to business. Here’s your host and Chief Marketing Renegade, Drew Neisser.

Drew: Hello, Renegade Marketers! You’re about to listen to a Career Huddle, a specially curated session where Huddlers get exclusive access to the authors of some of the world’s best-selling business books. The expert at this particular Huddle is Liz Wiseman, a New York Times bestselling author and executive advisor. She joined us to discuss her important book, I loved it, “Impact Players.” And we talked about how CMOs can cultivate impact players, how to motivate them, how to recognize them. Lots of great insights, not only are you going to enjoy the episode, but I bet you’re gonna want to get the book. Let’s get to it. 

Hello Huddlers, welcome to another CMO Huddles Book Club where we introduce you to bestselling authors who can help propel your careers to new heights. Today, our special guest is Liz Wiseman, author of “Impact Players” and “Multipliers.” I haven’t read “Multipliers” yet, but it is next on my list. Now “Impact Players” is a book that is on top of a new list that I’ve created, which are books that I wish I could have read at the beginning of my career. And I just can’t emphasize that enough. I happen to have millennial kids, and it’s like this is definitely one that they have been requested to read. Anyway, Liz is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. Some of her recent clients include some names you might have heard of like Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft and Salesforce. It’s like the B2B All-Stars there. She is consistently named one of the world’s top 50 management thinkers and best of all, is here today to answer my questions and yours, on how you can have more impact as a leader, both on your own because you all have the chance to be impact players but also by hiring and nurturing impact players on your team. And with that, Liz Wiseman. Hello and welcome.

Liz: Well, Drew, good to be here.

Drew: It’s exciting. So where are you today? This fine day where would we find you?

Liz: I am in Menlo Park, California. This is home and it is sunny out and it has been raining here. People probably read about the atmospheric river that has been descending on California. So we’re grateful for a beautiful sunny day.

Drew: Awesome. Well, I know that you have a bit of wanderlust, I think you said that you visited 70 countries. Is that right? And you’ve never celebrated a birthday at the same place?

Liz: Well, yes, my husband and I love to travel and I travel a fair bit for work, but we’re always scheming on the next place to go and discover. And our son who is 20 this year, he has never had a birthday in the United States. And this started completely by accident. I had a work trip to Japan. He happened to be turning one, babies don’t know it’s their birthday. So we took him to Japan. And then the next year, his birthday is the end of July. So we were on vacation. And then our older kids noticed, “Hey, Josh is like, I think this was three years in a row. It’s like, Josh just hasn’t had a birthday at home.” And they thought that was really funny and we just decided to make it a bit of a family mission that Josh would be in some new place around the world on his birthday. Once he gets to 18 he’s on his own, but we’ve made it to 20.

Drew: Well, lucky, lucky Josh, I’ve constantly said we should probably all come back as our children because it sounds like he’s had a very good, amazing experience.

Liz: Well, yes and it has been a privilege to travel, some of the places we’ve traveled like, these have not been luxury places like we’ve taken our kids out into really interesting parts of the world. So these have not been glamour birthdays, let’s put it that way.

Drew: Okay, well, I know everyone here is excited to sort of talk about “Impact Players.” And in the book, you distinguish between contributors, people who are perfectly fine at their jobs, and the difference between, particularly their mindset. So I think it would help if you just set that stage and very quickly, just what’s the difference between a contributor and an impact player?

Liz: In this study, I was trying to understand—let me back up a little bit. I saw the comment about “Multipliers,” and I’m guessing maybe a few people have read the book. But you know, for a decade, I had been really understanding what leaders do that allow people to contribute at their fullest. That’s in essence, what “Multipliers” is about. And I started to wonder about the other side of the coin and really, that leadership is a variable in that equation, but so is the way the contributor shows up. So I was trying to understand what causes some people to like, show up and just do their job versus show up and make a huge impact and contribute fully and do work that’s extraordinarily valuable. So that’s really what we studied. We went out to about 170 managers in nine employers, all top employers, places people wanted to work, some of the companies that you listed, and we interviewed managers and asked them to describe what I call an ordinary contributor versus an impact player. Now, what’s important here is the ordinary contributor wasn’t a lackey, wasn’t someone who’s underperforming. This is not someone shirking their duties. This is someone who is working hard, who is smart, who is capable, who’s talented, versus someone who’s smart, capable and talented and making an extraordinary impact and if I had to boil it down to one difference between the two, it has to do with how they handle ambiguity and uncertainty, which we are surrounded with right now. And, you know, what we saw was that the ordinary contributors, they did their job, they followed direction, they were focused, they took responsibility, they carried the weight on teams like they were stellar in ordinary times. But once the world got messy, once it wasn’t clear who was in charge, or where things like fall in their path that are beyond their control, that’s when the impact players really distinguished themselves, that’s where they created this value, is this ability to figure out what needs to be done, to step up and take the lead, to rally their leaders to help them get things done, rather than hand things off to their leaders, to you know, adapt, adjust, to make hard work feel easier, and that really came down to the difference.

Drew: I’m not very good at remembering definitions but I’m very good at remembering stories. I know that’s a very human characteristic. And at the very beginning of the book, you tell the story of Monica Padman, from her journey from babysitter to podcast star and to me, that’s a quintessential example and one that, boy, I want, you know, every kid in college to hear, but could you share a little bit of that story, so folks are on the same page with me here?

Liz: You know, this is one of the tension points in the book and it’s actually a tension point in the book that kind of angers a fair number of readers. And I know this because I look at the reviews on Amazon and I read the good reviews, I read the bad reviews. And some of them are like, “I hate this book,” because so many people have been told, taught, scripted to like, follow your passion, like do the thing you love. And Monica’s success has everything to do with doing the opposite and doing work that was needed, maybe to follow this metaphor, like versus work that you love. It’s like do valuable work in or like a passionate, loving way. And you know, so Monica graduates from college with a degree in, let me see, was it public relations to appease her parents and theater. And she wanted to be an actress, and she wanted to be a comedian and she wanted to like delight people and make people laugh and so she moved to LA and you know, was doing kind of babysitting jobs and kind of working those part-time jobs while she was auditioning and she’s getting some small parts and she gets a small part in—someone here will know it and put it, it’s with Kristen Bell. And she plays Kristen Bell’s on-screen assistant, they kind of meet. In the course of meeting, she tells Kristen Bell that she babysits and kind of offers her babysitting services as well, Kristen takes her up on that, she becomes like a part-time babysitter and then she’s sort of in with the family. And you can imagine like what most people would do when they are babysitting for Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s children. Kristen Bell is the actress, let me see, Frozen would probably be where most people would know her from, Dax Shepard from Armchair Expert podcast. And instead of like asking them to get her parts and roles, she kind of looks around and sees what their family needs. And they ask her if she’ll babysit full-time and be a nanny for them. And she’s like, “Wow, it’s gonna make it hard for me to go and audition.” She says, “Yeah,” she notices what’s happening. She’s like, “You know, what, a lot of scripts are coming in, can I help you, like, review the scripts, and oh, you know, you need help with scheduling because you’re acting, you’re producing, you’re, you know,” until she just starts really making herself useful, which is the name of that chapter. And in the process, she’s kind of sitting on the porch with Dax, and they’re arguing, as one might do with Dax Shepard, and they just develop this rapport and he’s like, “Hey, let’s do a podcast about us kind of like arguing about this and that,” and really, instead of kind of following what she was passionate about, she took this sidestep, created this value, and then had all of that value returned back to her. And it’s what we find these impact players do. And, you know, sometimes I look at these reviews, you know, they’re spotty, but you know, these reviews that are like, “I hate this book, because it tells you, you shouldn’t follow your passion.” I’m like, well, there’s part of me that wants to like lie and say, “Oh, you should follow your passion. That’s what impact players do,” because people would like the message. But that’s not actually true.

Drew: Well, it’s funny, because I was at a networking event for folks in the entertainment media and the arts from my college the other day, and it was talking to some kids and kids by 22 to 25. And a lot of them had switched like three jobs because they kept looking for their passion and have this perfect alignment and find this perfect culture. And I kept wanting to say, “Hey, grab this book and just think about, did you go into every single job and say, ‘What can I solve? What can I do? How can I make a difference,’ and create a job for yourself and make a difference.” And the book is full of stories like that. Now, the folks in here, they’re already CMOs, they’ve accomplished something, they’ve and they’re doing it in a lot of industries, and many of them started in different places, they might have started as engineers, and they found their way to the CMO role, probably by being impact players along the way. So I don’t want to get stuck on there. But the phrase that really did stick with me is “put on your opportunity goggles,” and so this sort of gets to this point of something we talk about a lot in CMO Huddles is this notion of CMO plus, the whole point of the book is you don’t get constrained by your role, your title, your in theory, your responsibilities. But you see what the problems that the organization face and you figure out, “Hey, can I help solve those.” So anyway, in the book, you outlined five practices for impact players and I thought it would be helpful to quickly go through those because I think each one of them has an implication for CMOs, and of course, how they manage their direct reports. So the first one was “do the job that’s needed.” And let’s just talk about that practice of an impact player.

Liz: Well, this is how impact players respond to messy problems. So these are problems without clear owners, where it’s not a marketing function, it’s not a sales function, it’s not a product function, it’s like, it’s not your job, it’s not their job. It’s just all that messy bit that sits in the middle of the white space of organizations and what we find is that the ordinary contributor, they do their job. And what’s like a little bit tragic about this is that these are people who do their jobs really well. But the problem is they can be so heads down doing their job, that they don’t see what’s happening around them. They’re missing the problems and the opportunities that sit outside the org charts and the job descriptions. Meanwhile, the impact players are working kind of eyes up, paying attention to what’s happening around them, doing the job that’s needed.

Drew: I’m gonna frame this in the context of B2B CMOs right now, a lot of parts of B2B have been in a recession. We call it a hidden recession for the last 12, maybe 18 months and what’s happened is their sales cycles have gotten longer and longer and longer. And to me and we’ve heard this a lot in Huddles, it’s several CMOs are saying, this is a problem I have to solve. It may not be a marketing problem, it may not even be a sales problem, it may not be a customer problem, but it’s a problem that has to be solved or the organization won’t be able to move forward. So I feel like that’s the job that’s needed right now, is that a fair definition of that and use case of it.

Liz: I think that’s a great use case of it. And it reminds me of another example in the book that I just found really inspiring. It’s Sabine Khairallah, who worked for Unilever and was the product manager for Lux Bodywash. And they have this new innovation in the product, it’s these like fragrance beads that, you know, make the fragrance last all day long. The product has been designed, it’s being manufactured, everyone has increased their forecast for the product, and this is going to add millions, you know, to the product, it’s being built in Indonesia and Thailand and some other places. And word comes up from supply chain that you know what, we’ve got supply chain delays, we can’t release the product in Q2, it’s coming out in Q3, and then pushed to Q4. And so all of the business leaders lower their forecasts and Sabine, who’s the product manager is like, well, I can’t really market a product that doesn’t exist. So what am I going to do for the next few months, I guess I could turn to other things. And she’s like, you know, what, let me make some phone calls, she calls the supply chain manager and finds out that the bottles are made in Thailand, but the caps are made in Indonesia, and the bottles are now stuck in customs and they can’t put them together. And she’s like, okay, and so she’s filling out the customs forms with him, trying to solve the problems. They solve that problem, then, okay, what’s the next delay? And they solve that. The product goes from a six-month delay to like a six-week delay, and they end up adding millions back into the forecast, because she said, “You know what, I know this isn’t my job. But it’s the job that’s needed now, and I can’t really do my core job unless we solve this problem.” And Drew you said something earlier about problem-solving and it was one of the things that struck me in this research, when I asked managers, 170 of them, how does Person A versus Person B, like define their job. So many of the managers said, these impact players, they define their job as problem solvers. Like, here’s kind of my title, here’s where I sit in the organization. But fundamentally, my value is to solve problems and find opportunities. And I think when we define our roles that way, it allows us to go and work where we can have our greatest impact.

Drew: So what’s interesting to me about that is there’s an opportunity here to stick your nose maybe where folks may not want you to stick your nose, someone could say, “What are you doing in finance here? Or what are you doing in nitty-gritty operational issues?” And the answer is because we can’t hit our marketing goals without solving this problem first, but the step that you talked about is step up and then step back. And can we talk about that? Because I think that’s such an important one. In this context, we’re saying there’s a major problem in the organization. In this case, you mentioned the Unilever one. I’m obsessed with as most CMOs in Huddles are, fixing the pipeline problem, which is just frozen. And so they’ve got to step up. But what is this part about stepping back? And why is that so important?

Liz: This is how people handle unclear roles where it’s just unclear who’s in charge where, you know, it’s not the hierarchy of the org chart that’s directing traffic. It’s like, okay, who’s in charge of this initiative, or this project, or this phone call? It’s where you’re like, land into a call, and you can’t quite figure out who the boss is and you’re wondering, like, is that me? Am I supposed to be in charge of this? And what we find is that the ordinary contributors, when those roles are unclear, they tend to sit back and wait for direction and they’re willing to lead, but they’re waiting for someone to appoint them. Like I’m willing to take charge, but give me the crown and the scepter, like, which in corporate equivalent would be send out the email note telling everyone I’m the boss of this, you know, like, “Hey, boss, will you tell everyone I’m the boss, and then I’ll take charge.” What we find is in those situations, the impact players aren’t waiting to be anointed, they’re not waiting to be asked. They’re just stepping up and leading. And if that were the case, if they were just stepping up and leading, they would probably fall into the category of annoying colleague, diminishing boss, know it all, bossy, narcissistic, the kind of colleagues honestly we hate working with. But it’s the step back part that is the reason why people rally behind them because not only do they step up and say hey, something needs to be done, let me take charge of this. When that need is met, they tend to roll back and let other people take charge. So they’re quick to lead but they’re also quick to step back and create room for other people, which is why people don’t tend to resent them.

Drew: Right? There’s a quote in that section, which is I don’t have to be in charge to take charge and I think that’s a really important part of the first part of this thing. And then it’s stepping back after it’s done because you probably do have a day job and you created this extra side hustle, if you will and it’s time to sort of let that go back to where it belongs. Okay, next up in this process is finish stronger. That isn’t as clear as step up and then step back, talk a little bit about that and where that fits in this impact player mindset.

Liz: Well, this has everything to do with how we deal with unforeseen obstacles, where something is bigger than us, out of our control, like not a little problem drops in your path, but like a problem you can’t really solve drops in your path. And, you know, what we find is that the ordinary contributor, they end up backing up like, the pandemic is obviously one example of this, but like supply chain disruptions, inflation, recession, like all these kinds of things, they’re like, bigger than any one company and bigger than any one person. And what we find is that the ordinary contributor, they get things started, they take charge of it, but when things get rough, what they tend to do is escalate up, like, “Hey, Boss, we’ve got a problem.” And they hand it off to a higher-up, which so many of our workflows and organizational norms point people to this, like, when do you escalate an issue, and they tend to hand it off, which makes some sense.

But what we find is that the impact players, they sound the alarm, but they don’t hand it off. So they get it done. So it’s this completion gene, we found it in so many of these impact players, they get it done, all the way done. One of my favorite expressions of this was from NASA, which was one of our research partners, and they have this term called fire and forget, which is a very NASA-like term and it’s not fire people and forget about them, which you might think. Some organizations perfect the fire and forget thing. They have this notion of fire and forget, it’s a distinction you give to people who you can fire off a request to, and then forget about the request because it’s as good as done. We all have colleagues we know are like this, which is you give it to them, and you don’t have to follow up, you don’t have to remind them, you don’t have to ask them, you don’t have to check in, you can check it off your to-do list, so they get it done. But the distinction is they don’t necessarily get it done alone because these are big, hard problems. So it’s not like a strong finish that’s like I crossed the finish line, and then I collapse in exhaustion, resentful, maybe of my colleagues that I had to go at this alone, and it’s not this kind of finish of let me just slog this by myself. You know, it’s, “Hey, boss, we have a problem. I’m on it. Here’s what I need from you.” So they get it done, because they don’t hand it to their boss, they boss, their boss, which I love. I think back to the times that I was at Oracle and the time where I’m like, “You know what, this is a messy thing. I’m willing to stay on it.” And like the privilege I get for staying on it is I get to tell the president of the company what to do and like the head of product to be like, “Okay, we’ve got a problem with this rollout. I need you to do this.” And so it’s kind of fun to be able to lead your leaders.

Drew: I wonder, as you were talking, you said it’s as good as done and I’m just going to ask the CMOs to just be thinking about how many of your four to six direct reports can you say you hand something off to and know that it’s as good as done. And my guess is you give more to the ones that you know that with confidence and the others, you’re sort of a little bit nervous. But imagine having six direct reports. Every single one of them you could fire and forget, in the positive NASA sense of that term.

Liz: And I’d also say it’s like, as a leader, the people who just get it done, like we enjoy going to work for them. Like in many ways, we don’t need them to work for us. It’s like, “Hey, yeah, what do you need me to do so you can get this product out so you can get that launch?” And it’s a privilege and a joy to be led by those people, which creates this wonderful, reciprocal relationship between boss and team member. It’s like, “Well, who works for who? Well, I don’t really know.” The boss is the person who’s leading the charge on any given initiative or day.

Drew: On any given day. I think that’s such an interesting point. It’s so fluid and it makes so much sense and part of this is, there are quotes about, you know, this isn’t about being a prima donna. And there’s the next one, which is about “ask and adjust,” there’s a quote that says, “She is compassionate but refuses to be an actor in any soap opera.” And so there’s no divas involved here, right? So talk a little bit about “ask and adjust.” And in that concept, because you mentioned a little bit, “You go to the boss and say, ‘I need to do this.'” Have we already covered that? Or is there more to say? Or is there another example that we should point out?

Liz: As far as the one that you mentioned, “ask and adjust,” it’s about how we deal with moving targets, you know? You’re creating a product launch and the product is morphing, the messaging is morphing. It’s where the market’s changing, customer preferences are changing, budgets are changing, while you’re working on something and you know, it’s shooting at a goal box while the goal box is kind of moving around. And, you know, for most of us, that’s kind of a typical day. And I think for CMOs, that’s their daily reality. And this one is really about persistence versus pivots. And what we find is that the ordinary contributors tend to persist, like you give them an objective, and they’ll persist against that objective but if you change the target, or change the budget, or change the messaging, it’s going to throw them off. You can probably already identify people who are like, “Yeah, that’s not what we agreed to. That’s not what you asked me to do. That wasn’t in the statement of work,” and sometimes they’re flustered, and then they get with the new program, some people never really get with the new program, and impact players are the people who are pivoting. And the best way I can, I think, explain it shortly is, it’s like people who do a day of work, go to bed, wake up the next morning, and assume that while they were sleeping, the world changed.

Drew: I have a vision of the other person as the Roomba that’s stuck in the corner, just hitting that wall, just bouncing off the wall.

Liz: “There’s gotta be some dirt here!” 

Drew: And you know, it’s interesting. And there’s another quote, which is, “Build a reputation as a coachable player who up levels their game and raises the bar for everyone on the team.” I know that CMOs are going to look at their direct reports with that idea in mind and want to have coachable players. But I wonder if they see themselves as that, too, within the C-suite and if they are coachable players in how they raise the bar for everyone. We talk a lot about this, which is, this is really what the chief in chief marketing officers, this is about being a leader of the organization, and you know, building a reputation as someone who just gets stuff done, not marketing, but gets the important stuff done. Sort of the conclusion I take. Alright, we’re gonna keep moving. Finally, the last part of the mindset is “making work light.” And I can’t help but wonder about this, because as I mentioned, at the top of our conversation, conditions are bleak in a lot of B2B segments. And you’ve got PE firms telling CMOs every single day, “We’re cutting your budget by 20%. And we’re raising your target by 20%,” which creates this delta of 40%. There isn’t a company in the world that has ever actually done that. But those are the challenges that the firms are laying on and by the way, “Go do this, wave your magic wand and make it happen.” That’s not funny. It’s not light. So help us make it light in that scenario, please.

Liz: Yeah, and I mean, you’re describing this “do more with less” scenario, which I think is a really fun challenge for like two days and then that’s painful, and it grinds on you. This is about making work easier. It’s this acknowledgment that the demands aren’t necessarily going away. They’re unrelenting, like we live in a world where there are more requests than we can meet, that like most of us have problems of abundance, rather than problems of scarcity and like, there’s more demands, more needs, more this. And it’s about attacking that with the sense of, “How do I make that workload as light as possible?” And in some ways, the impact players made work light for others. They were helpers like, “Hey, can I help you with that?” But that’s a rare case of it because you can only do so much of that before you yourself are overwhelmed and your impact is diluted. For the most part, these are people who are just low maintenance, no drama, no politics, they kind of cut all of the stuff that distracts from the real work and they focus on what’s going to have impact. Although I know a few organizations where being really good at politics might be what makes you impactful. I like to think of impact players as people where a little bit of leadership goes a really long way.

Drew: There’s a t-shirt that one of the persons that you interviewed, that is a star, I think something like, “Help push someone up the ladder” I can’t remember exactly what the quote is.

Liz: “Let other people climb corporate ladders, I’m going to climb mountains,” That person in particular, he’s beloved in this company, and has a huge role in this organization and runs a, you know, a billion dollar plus business inside that organization. And so he’s high on the corporate ladder. But that’s just never been his mentality. His mentality is, “What’s the problem? And how can I be of value here to help solve that,” but there are also people who just make work feel lighter ad it’s a little bit of a “Whistle While You Work” kind of mentality, but it’s like, “Okay, we got this sucky situation, it’s not getting better. Let’s make it as easy as possible, as simple as possible. But then let’s just laugh while we’re doing it and have a good time.” And you know, it’s funny, one of the things in this research that I asked managers, “What is it that people do on your team that makes you kind of hate your job as boss? Like, what are all the things people do that you hate?” And then, “What are the things that people do that just make your job delightful, easy, that you really appreciate?” And, you know, one of the things that’s in the top 10 is just people who laugh and keep other people laughing. And it’s not like a comedian, a clown, but just the people, when you see their name on your calendar for the week, you just kind of laugh inside, because you know, it’s going to be a fun and funny meeting versus the people. You’re like, “Oh, God, this one. It’s going to be painful.”

Drew: Yeah, you don’t want to be that person that everybody dreads to meet with. We talk about that and almost everybody in the CMO Huddles community is very much about this notion of making work light, I think it’s hard right now, but I think that’s when you really shine, you figure out a way to, maybe you take a little bit more of a burden on yourself and try to protect your team at this moment. So I do want to remind the audience that’s listening right now that you can raise your hand and join the conversation, you can put questions in chat. And also I know some of you took the quiz that Liz has on our website, if any of you want to share what you had and ask a question, you can put that in chat about, well, what does it mean, what do the results mean? So we’ll look for those in a second. But I want to shift gears now. We’ve talked about impact players in the context of being one. Now I really want to focus on CMOs, their direct reports, and how these folks have very, very specific responsibilities, right, they’re going to be the head of demand gen, they’re going to have a marketing ops person, they may have a brand person, they may have a field ops person, each of those, in theory, has a pretty clear, sort of fairly well defined, there are dependencies. Let’s talk about, you know, is one goal to try to have an impact player in every one of our direct reports roles.

Liz: And Suzanne asked this question is there an optimum number of impact players on a team and you know, when I started the research, I thought of these people as like the envy piece of the team. And it’s easy to think of it that way. These are the superstars. These are the people you hand the ball to when the stakes are high and you’ve got two seconds left in the game, this is the person who’s gonna get it across the goal line. But when you do that, I think it limits us to like, okay, there are one or two, maybe there’s an offensive MVP and a defensive, and then it builds resentment for these people on the teams because they’re the ones that always get the glory, get the ball, etc. 

And I think when instead you see it as not a categorization of people, which I’ve talked about it this way, but it really isn’t about a categorization of people, it’s about a mindset that we tend to move in and out of. And boy, I can point to a moment in my career where I was very much an impact player like working this way. I remember the time where someone said, “Liz, you kind of run Oracle” and I’m like, “I don’t run Oracle.” Then I’m like, “Wait a minute, I kind of do run Oracle” like if you asked the top executives, they’ll probably say “Liz kind of runs Oracle” because I’m running so many of the initiatives, they give me all that white space in it but man, I could tell you times where I was absolutely stuck in a contributor mentality. I can tell you about some times where I might have been an under contributor where I’m not only not an impact player, but someone who’s really missing the mark kind of pursuing my own agenda. 

And so we tend to move in and out. And I think when we define it as modes of working, and maybe even moments, it opens that up. When we were launching, my team and I were launching this book, you know, as we’re sort of celebrating the successful launch and talking about that we’re like, “Man, you know, the impact player for this launch was Judy.” And Judy does, like, sales administration on our team and contract processing. But she was the one who was like, “Oh, you know what, we need to get on to big podcasts and Liz knows Brené Brown, and so and so has been on there.” And so she just makes some phone calls and next thing you know I’m on like Brené’s podcast.  And she just did it. She was just like, “I just knew that was something that should be done.” She didn’t leave it to the PR folks to do this. And so when you do that, it allows teams to talk about it, like, “Oh, here was the impact player for that project, or we’ve got a bunch of impact players on this.” And it allows that role to be inclusive and open. 

And I think you can have an entire team, now some people say “No, I don’t want a whole team of impact players.” I remember one CEO, who ran a financial services company on the East Coast and she loved the book but then when I went out to do some work with her and her management team, she’s like, “Yeah, these impact players, I love them but they’re kind of a pain in my ass.” Because they’re pushy, they’re like, ‘No, you know, here’s what we’re gonna do, we can do this.'” And they’re just like churning up dust around them, but she wanted a whole organization of them. So I think you can have a whole team and you know, if you want that, I think you have to have a certain kind of approach to leadership, which is quite permissive. But you’ve got to create a safe environment and there’s several things you have to do, you have to be the kind of coach people would want to play for. That might be the biggest barrier is like you want to impact players, but you’re still the kind of coach that’s gonna call all the shots. And you know, you’ve got hierarchy that’s suppressing good thinking. If you want an entire team of impact players, you’ve got to be the kind of person who tracks and celebrates the assist. That doesn’t just celebrate the person who makes the basket, spikes the ball, but like the person who consistently sets up the ball. When you really celebrate the assist, and not just the win, then you get people who want to see those impact players, who want to be impact players, who are okay with that rotating.

Drew: Right. And so we have a bunch of questions that have come in, and I’m going to sort of take them in order that they came in, and maybe we can go through them real quickly. Are there ways to hire for impact players? Where there are certain things you know they need to have before you can sort of teach them how to really be one?

Liz: Yes. Okay, so I want to go first to Bindu’s question. Can you train ordinary players to become impact players? Yes. For many people, but no, not for everyone. There are some people who probably—like everything is possible. But let me talk about more likely scenarios, there are people who are in your organization, or who maybe want to come work for your organization who probably have barriers that prevent them from thinking and working this way. And that’s me countering, like all of my normal optimism like the coach in me that thinks like these mindsets can be learned and developed. I think there’s some people that I’ve seen just like can’t do it. They’re too afraid, they’ve been inculcated with too much hierarchy, too much timidity to be able to do probably what you want them to do. You might know who those people are. There’s probably a bell curve here. There’s probably some people who are going to work this way even if you’re a terrible boss, like it’s just in them, they were raised this way. Then there are probably a lot of people who with good coaching, and with the right environment and development can very much learn to think this way. And there are some people who are stuck.

Okay. How do you hire so that you don’t get the people who can’t do it and you get a disproportionate of people who already think and work this way? Like how do you stack the deck in your favor on this . We looked at all of the traits of the impact players that came up in the research and we then passed that against a group of you know, world-class coaches. So the Marshall Goldsmith 100 group, I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with Marshall Goldsmith. I’m a member of that group and they’re all people who are really seasoned, experienced coaches, and we asked them like, “Okay, in your coaching work, how easy is it for someone to learn this” and we’re kind of looking at it through this lens, what came out of that analysis was four of the traits that are really hard for people to change. They’re really hard for leaders to coach, for executive coaches to coach, these are the more immutable ones, ones with permanence. And so this is what you’re looking for: One, people with a strong sense of personal agency, what the psychologists would call internal locus of control, meaning people who just fundamentally believe like, “No, I’m really in charge of me, other people aren’t in charge of me” like they’re probably the little kids who are like, “You’re not the boss of me.” And so the people who move through life, who don’t default to a victim mentality, that’s number one. Number two: hierarchy, do they have really strong vertical orientation of like, “Well, that’s the boss and the boss’s boss, and I don’t speak to the boss, or like, I am the boss, and you’re not the boss.” And a lot of that can be cultural. And it can be based on your past work experience, like how much concrete between layers of leadership do they see? Versus someone who’s like, “Hey, you know what good to meet you.” They don’t ask your title and don’t you know, look for where you are on the org chart. Three is like a service orientation. Like the psychologists might call it a benefit mindset, which is like, do they see themselves as a problem solver? Do they see themselves as fundamentally there to serve? And the last is, I might be forgetting the fourth.

Drew: It’s alright, because we can’t cover it all. And that’s why people need to read the book. It’s okay. We have a lot of questions, and we’re going to try to get to all of them. JD has been waiting there patiently. JD Dillon from Tigo. JD, what’s your question?

JD: Sure, Liz, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Richard Beatty, “differentiated workforce,” it’s a concept that looks at roles in different companies are the ones that differentiate that company per strategy. So he focuses on the roles, not the people. And it’s an “and,” right, in the end, it’s not an “or.” Having said that, the argument would be certain companies need impact players in certain roles alignned with their strategy, whereas in other roles, maybe they don’t. And also, it’s expensive to hire impact players, if they’re that good and they know they’re that good, they’ll cost that much. So you can’t pay for everybody. So what would you say to the argument that you should choose certain roles for your impact players in accordance with whatever your company strategy is?

Liz: So I’ve got a yes and a no reaction to that and first of all, the caveat is I’m not familiar with that framework. But based on what you’ve explained, I’m making some assumptions. So the yes part is like, yes, if you have a limited number of impact players, you’re going to want to put them in those high-impact vital roles for your strategy. That makes sense. The no part of it is I think it’s easy and I’m not suggesting you’re implying this, but I think it’s easy for all of us to take this position of like, well, certain roles are low-impact roles and we just don’t need much from those folks. We need them to turn the crank. And I hear this from a lot of people, they’re like, “Yeah, but there’s some people you just need Steady Eddies turning the crank, doing what they’re supposed to do. And it’s easy to fall into that form of logic and say, “Yeah, yeah, we don’t expect much in this role. This person is running our sales contracts, we don’t need them booking podcasts. But I think you miss out on a lot of opportunity. 

I want to just step back a little bit and just go back to this, I keep seeing it on Drew’s bookshelf, my Multipliers book gratuitously on the bookshelf, I’m seeing it, and like this is really what I spent more than a decade really studying and teaching is, there is so much underutilized talent inside of our organizations. If you’ve read “Multipliers,” you know, this is like, the premise of the book is that there are a lot of people who are working hard and they’re busy, but they are intellectually underutilized and they could be doing so much more and they want to do more and when we get stuck in these cycles of working hard, but being underutilized meaning like turning a crank, it leads to burnout. And you know, it’s so easy to assume that people burn out because they have too much work. Okay, we’ve got too many sales contracts going through our sales contract person, like they’re burnt out. But you know, if we really like, look at the sources of burnout and you think about your own experience, people don’t tend to burn out because they have too much. People tend to burn out because we have too little impact, meaning I’m working hard, but I’m not making a difference. I can’t see the results.

Drew: Like on a hamster wheel. 

Liz: Second, like for me, I mentioned that like Oracle, like that kind of phase in time where I felt like I was kind of running the place and having a huge impact. And then I remember it was a meeting with Larry Ellison and he was asking me about something and I just like, mouthed off. I’m just like, Larry, at this point, you can hire a monkey to do my job. Because like, it’s gotten so routine, we were globalizing the business and standardizing and it had lost a little bit of that entrepreneurial spirit, but I’m like, yeah, just hire a monkey, you know, you don’t need me because I feel like I’m turning the crank, and I look back, and that was where I was, like, a little bitter, you know, that’s when I decided it’s time to leave Oracle, I’m feeling burnt out. But man, all those years where I was working hard, but making a difference, I never felt an ounce of burnout. Like it was invigorating. So all of that is to say, I think, if we decide that a certain, yes, if you’ve got limited number of impact, players, make sure they’re in the right roles to create maximum value. But if we decide that there’s a set of jobs in organizations that are really second-class roles, one, I think we’re wasting a lot of talent and resource that we’re paying for. And we might be creating huge swaths of burnout, that then later affect the whole organization. And in fact, the impact players as people are like, “Man, this place sucks,” you know, turn on the crank. So maybe that was more.

Drew: One, I think sometimes, JD, is specifically, people need to see that they could have bigger impact than their jobs and they need to have that position by the leader. There’s a great story in Liz’s book about how a woman graduates from BU, she becomes a receptionist at an advertising agency, and the CEO of the agency comes out and says, you are the CEO of the reception desk. And the result of that inspiration of saying you’re going to have much more impact than simply answering the phone and letting people in, was that this person took on 10 different jobs, you know, 15 years later, she’s the CEO of the agency, she was given the notion of having bigger impact and then she stepped into it. And you think about every single receptionist that ever had the job, if they were told you are the CEO of this place, you’re the most important person because you’re greeting everyone. I feel like that’s a pretty well-defined role and yet, in a very low budget job, that became very important, so I love the story there. So I think it is less about hiring superstar salespeople and saying, “Okay, you’re an impact player,” and more about letting people understand that the impact that they can make goes beyond the definition of their job.

Liz: And Drew, I think there’s a couple of techniques for this. And it also addresses Matt’s question, which I see here. Like, the first technique would be, here’s your job. Your job is a receptionist, you know, answer phones, do whatever. But here’s your real job. Your real job is to be the face of this company and to ensure that everyone who walks in our door has a positive experience. That’s the real job. And I think we can do the same with virtually any job, which is, here’s your job, your job is to, you know, do social media for this, but your real job is to create buzz or create positive interactions with our brand online or whatever. Like, that’s your real job and so it’s defining the job based on the impact you want the person to have, rather than the duties they hold. That’s one thing I think we can do.

I want to address Matt’s question, “How do you set guardrails for impact players?” And this is probably to that point where that CEO of that financial firm on the East Coast, she’s like, “Yeah, they’re kind of a pain in my butt, but I love them,” because they maybe are drawn to the messy bits and I think it is important to set guardrails. I think the first one is about setting a guardrail so people don’t go missing. So like back to this, like first practice of doing your job versus the job that’s needed. You don’t want people to abandon their post and go off and just do the job that they think is necessary. In the book I mentioned, people should follow the practice of taking out a permit, meaning if you’re gonna go on backcountry, kind of off the beaten path, you need to let people know where you’re going so if you go missing people know kind of where to look. So you can ask people like, “Hey, go do the job that’s needed. But don’t abandon your post. Let me know what you’re up to and if you need me to cover this or get someone else to cover this, while you’re doing this, let us know.” You just don’t want people to go missing. That might be a guardrail, the other guardrail might be just letting people know what’s out of bounds. And there’s a delegation practice that I’ve developed. This came out of my teaching multipliers and noticing like most micromanaging happens when leaders aren’t clear about what they want. They say, “Here, I want you to go write an analysis on this,” and then the person brings them back like a one-page document, with nothing but words and like, I’m like, oh, man, I was imagining, like something with charts. And I was imagining something with enough pages that it required like a staple, like I was imagining something that required a binder to hold the analysis. But I never told that person that so people end up micromanaging.

So here’s the delegation practice, it’s about communicating what’s in your head and putting it in someone else’s head and it’s what I call the three what’s: number one is, here’s what great looks like. You know you’ve done a great job at this when people are retweeting the post, you know you’re done when I can take that and send it up for approval without making any changes. And then here’s the guardrails: here’s what’s not important, here’s what’s out of bounds. I like to think of it like finishing a race, like here’s what wins the prize. Here’s the finish line. And here is the boundaries of the race, meaning don’t go off here, you’re wasting your time, you’re wasting my time and it might just annoy me in the process. And I think if you let people know that three what’s when you give them a piece of work, you’re defining impact, and you’re letting them know this isn’t up for debate.

Drew: Well, I feel like that’s a wonderful place to wrap up, we have the three what’s in terms of helping provide the guardrails. So Liz, are you available for coaching or consulting? And if so, how can CMOs find you?

Liz: I do a little bit of coaching. And the consulting would probably be kind of coaching or helping organizations.

Drew: Thank you so much for joining us.

If you’re a B2B CMO, and you want to hear more conversations like this one, find out if you qualify to join our community of sharing, caring, and daring CMOs at CMOhuddles.com.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Hey, that’s me. This show is produced by Melissa Caffrey, Laura Parkyn, and Ishar Cuevas. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro VoiceOver is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests and learn more about CMO Huddles or my CMO coaching service, please visit renegademarketing.com. I’m your host Drew Neisser. Until next time, keep those renegade marketing caps on and strong!