How can we each achieve the lofty and satisfying position of knowing we have made a difference through our work in this business?
I don’t think any architect, engineer, or environmental consultant pursues an education in their discipline of choice and then embarks on their post-graduation career not wanting to create a real impact in their field. Yet, as brutal as this truth is, few do.
Why is that?
It’s sad, if you think about it. Doesn’t there have to be more to life than working at a job, providing for the basic necessities of life for our families and ourselves, and accumulating a bunch of stuff? I believe so. I don’t think people are truly happy and fulfilled unless they DO make an impact.
I know it’s not easy. Most of our readers work in organizations with other people. Their success is usually a collective success. That’s both good and bad. While it’s good that we routinely assemble teams to tackle very complex problems and usually succeed in doing so, it’s not so good in that that fact denies the individual their unique success based solely on their efforts. And that is critical to their self-esteem!
So here we are. How can we each achieve the lofty and satisfying position of knowing we have made a difference through our work in this business? Here are my thoughts:
- Overcome your fear of ridicule or criticism. This is number one on my list for a reason. It paralyzes so many people. I understand that. So many times – even recently – I have poked my head up and said or done something that may run counter to popular opinion and been subject to a rash of public criticism. It’s not fun! It’s normal not to enjoy that when it happens. But you have to accept the fact that if you are trying to do something or change something you will be bound to ruffle some feathers. You cannot be crushed by that.
- Work for GOOD clients – that means good people – who want you to do something worthwhile because they care about what is right and want to make an impact themselves. You all know what I am talking about here. Good clients are ethical. They don’t want to do anything wrong. The really great clients want to make the world a better place. Your work can directly contribute to that. Seek these clients out and then do what you have to do to keep them doing the right thing and looking good to their constituents and the public at-large.
- Walk away from bad clients. Bad clients will ruin your reputation and greatly decrease your chances of making a positive impact. Get away from them. If they are unethical and wanting you to do the wrong thing, they can take you down with them. Or, they will do the wrong thing to you. But not all “bad” clients are unethical. Some are just cheap and risk-averse and don’t ever want to try anything new to really break out. You don’t want to work for these people, either. Learn how to say “no” to a bad client and you will clear the runway for making a real impact in your field.
- Share your thinking continuously, and be a direct communicator! The big buzzterm we have all heard for years is “thought leadership.” But no one will know WHAT you are thinking unless you share it. So, write it down in an article for your company newsletter, for a press release, in a blogpost, or give a talk or do a video or podcast where you share your thinking. And by the way, you will never be a thought leader if all you do is quote other people, or articles, or books, or social media posts that you read. You have to give YOUR unique perspective and ideas on subjects. Not someone else’s. I see a lot of self-proclaimed “thought leaders” who regularly do this. That is thought followership, not leadership.
- Learn how to sell. Here’s why – you will never get anyone to try out your idea and build it if you cannot sell them on the benefits of doing so. Your skills of persuasion go way beyond securing a new client or project. They are necessary to get clients to listen to your advice! And that is going to be essential if you want to make an impact. That means getting people to do what you want them to do because it is the best course of action. Contrary to what so many design and technical professionals think, “selling” is not a dirty word! Better learn all you can about it because it is a critical skill!
- Assume leadership roles every chance you get. Forget your politics in this example, but did you ever see the movie Vice about Dick Cheney’s rise and political career? Many would say he was the most powerful vice president we have ever had. It was clear from the movie that one way he became that influential was because he said “yes” to every single leadership opportunity he ever got. And those that weren’t offered to him directly, he volunteered for. Getting into a leadership position where you have some clout can only be helpful to making an impact in your field.
- Promote! I’m not suggesting you become a glory hound. But I am suggesting that you do market yourself (and your firm in the process). PR is essential to establishing yourself as an expert and original thinker. And that is how you will secure more opportunities to make an impact in your field. If you are unknown, you won’t make an impact – at least not one anyone else is aware of.
- Keep learning new stuff and stay on top of your game. If you want to make an impact, you have to be good at what you do. Really good. Outstanding, in fact. So, keep learning. Transferring knowledge from one industry or project type to another is one way to do this. That means you have to stay on top of your game and know what is really happening to advance the knowledge base. And then contribute to that.
So, there you have it. It’s now time for us to get back to making an impact in our fields!
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.