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| April 7, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Today’s reading, IMPACT, was written by Bruce Barton, as a reflection in one of the Leaders Program cycles.  Bruce manages the Shared Development Group of the General Library System at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.


Something I’ve been thinking about:

Name five leaders.  Chances are that the same names will appear on many of our lists.  Maybe you name Steve Jobs, a business leader, or Lincoln, a political leader, or the Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader.   Whoever you name, chances are that these will be leaders who are known to us because of their impact.  Impact is so important to the popular conception of leadership that we often start there and then try to reverse engineer the qualities of the leader—his or her magic—that produced the impact.

But, impact depends on many things.  Resources are critical.  Timing and luck play no small part.  The presence of factors that multiply small actions to produce large effects. Position, and the power and connections that come with it.  And then, eventually, those qualities of the leader, which in the final analysis may have made only a small contribution relative to the size and nature of the impact.

A key insight I’ve gained from MOR is that leadership should not be assessed by impact, given the many factors a leader cannot control, but by the things the leader can control. And that isn’t very much.  It’s a few habits around relationships, the lenses, being intentional, thinking strategically, emotional intelligence, presence, and perhaps a couple of other things that you will remember and I’ve forgotten to mention.  It’s mastery and use of a few simple tools.  It’s commitment to facilitating change to make things better.  Do this consistently and you become effective (in the sense of competent) as a leader.  It isn’t magic.  It’s something you work at.

I’ve been thinking about this because, before MOR, I had not thought of my work at UW-Madison as having a significant leadership component.  I work far below the impact threshold I thought was needed to count as leading.  Still, I’d been working at trying to nudge us towards useful change and towards a clearer, more strategic vision.  I told myself that this is leading with ideas – planting the seeds, if it’s not actual leading.  Doing this had felt more like an extracurricular activity than part of my job.  And because I enjoy thinking about these sorts of things, often more than working at the job, it had been something of a guilty pleasure.

So, I don’t have to feel guilty?  Leading is my job?  I should gage myself by effectiveness, something I can control, and not by impact, something I can’t control Thank you, MOR!  I’m feeling a lot better.

Obviously, the university has sponsored my participation in the MOR ITLP because given the resources entrusted to me and my colleagues, helping me and others become more effective as leaders will, with a bit of luck, lead to better outcomes and, for the institution as a whole, to a bigger impact.  And obviously, leadership skills aren’t the whole story; domain judgment in one’s area of responsibility, for one, also counts.  But effectiveness as a leader is a concrete thing I can work towards.  It has already begun to make a difference.


Bruce Barton is clear in his mind about it.  He’s making a difference.  Are you making a difference as a leader where you are doing what you do?

For those of us in the frozen northeast, spring is slowly coming.  I trust that you’ll have a great week wherever you are.  .  .  .   jim