Three Steps to Begin Making an Impact

June 14, 2021
Leadership Lessons

Wanting to tackle a challenging issue but not knowing where to start is understandably intimidating but top of mind for many Arizonans after the last year. We’re all capable of driving the impact we want to see in ourselves and our communities. With a commitment to exploration, goalsetting and collaboration, you can set yourself up to make a difference.  

Unlock your personal impact plan. Apply for Catalyze by July 13 

Explore the Change You Want to Make and the Values to Drive that Change 

It’s not enough to simply want to see change happen – it takes work, time and, depending on the change you want to see, a lot of people.  

If you’re like me and have been binging Survivor episodes during the recent era of being indoors (and way prior), you already know this to be true. It’s virtually impossible to outplay, outwit and outlast the competition without having a few allies by your side. More than that, Survivor paints a picture of the different levels of change in real-time. There’s the individual, short-term or sometimes ad-hoc level: a castaway isn’t having luck at starting a fire with friction, so they try using their glasses instead. Then there’s the team level or building phase: a tribe keeps losing challenges because they’re not working well together, so they vote out the person with the worst attitude who contributes the least at camp. Finally, there’s the holistic, systems, game-changing level: castaways form alliances or develop big picture and long-term strategies so strong that every season following pays homage to their game. Each level of change is important, and they all flow together and require careful assessment, preparation, planning and implementation. However, the most memorable players somehow manage to take on all three. 

Expanding your perspective, understanding the issues and how they interconnect and creating a culture that is inclusive of everyone makes working towards change more manageable and achievable.  

Coupled with that, Valley Leadership’s Principles of Doing – operating with integrity, working with a team mindset and building trust to fuel work that leads with action, being driven to do, and putting Arizona first – create the foundation for leaders to make the impact they want to see in themselves or beyond. These principles set the foundation for how we prepare people who take part in our leadership development opportunities and how our Impact Maker Teams approach their work to tackle challenges facing the community. 

See the Forest AND the Trees  

When considering how to make an impact either in my life or in the community, I tend to fall back on a couple of my favorite takeaways from my time as an ecology student at ASU.  

The first is systems thinking. The way nitrogen levels in soil impact plant growth, which ultimately impacts various ecosystem services and food chains, is comparable to how early literacy impacts a child’s educational success, which impacts health outcomes and the economy. When charting a path towards impact, it’s important to consider whether our actions simply serve people while reinforcing broken systems or solve deeper problems – especially those that were embedded in our foundations and result in inequities and injustices across communities.   

To avoid negative outcomes that may stem from good intentions, it’s good practice to research or develop diagrams, outlines or frameworks that map the reinforcing and balancing connections between the individual pieces of a whole. They may end up looking ugly or overwhelming, but landscape and systems maps can help us identify where we can plug into work that both addresses immediate needs and corrects the faulty foundations that cultivated an issue. After that, it’s important to plug into that community, if you haven’t already, to build relationships and better understand how you can partner.  

My second, equally favorite takeaway – very similar to the first – is ubuntu. A concept I learned as a student who studied abroad for a short time in South Africa and as a sister to an athlete whose countless teams practiced collectivism throughout my young life, ubuntu in its simplest form means I am, because of you. Just as we do not become all that we are without the people who surround us, economic, social and environmental issues do not exist or subside in isolation. Ubuntu implores us to lean on our shared humanity to sustainably further humanity – we’re all accountable to each other.  

Set SMART Goals 

I was in the 97th percentile for my weight in the sixth grade. There’s no denying that I was a hefty tween with an attitude to match, but because I was 12 and didn’t understand that my body was still doing its job despite my pediatrician’s concerns, I took to Google to learn how to rid my frame of its extra padding. To my annoyance, eating only turkey sandwiches and ingesting shots of apple cider vinegar and lemon water did not shrink my tummy or change the fact that I still loved ice cream and hated forced exercise. While my qualms with my body were ultimately misguided, even more so, the goals and expectations I set for myself were not SMART: my plans to lose weight overnight were neither realistic, measurable, actionable, relevant nor timely.  

Organizational psychologists have been telling us to set SMART goals since what seems like the beginning of time for a reason – they tend to work. Unlike my 12-year-old self, many people practice SMART goalsetting without recognizing that they’re even doing it. In our personal or professional lives, we have immediate and long-term outcomes in mind that we work towards in strategic increments. Consider a college student who may work on a big assignment over the course of a week using the syllabus or set of criteria to ensure they’ll make a minimum grade and submit by Monday at 8 p.m. so that they can also enjoy board and bottle night at Postino by 8:30 p.m. Or, consider that student’s parent who wanted to help put their child through college by budgeting for a percentage of their paycheck to automatically funnel into a 529 plan each pay period. While many may be pros at setting SMART goals without thinking about it, we can collectively create positive and equitable change when we all consciously consider what actions will guide us towards small wins that can make a big impact when compounded over time.  

At Valley Leadership, our Impact Maker Teams work together to identify our individual and collective strengths to create metrics, objectives and goals that allow us to chip away at the barriers that currently obscure our vision for the community. Our team working on education, for instance, envisions and Arizona where students receive an excellent education every step of the way that prepares them for success in life and work. To achieve that vision, team members seek to reach Arizona Progress Meter goals by increasing the number of business and community leaders aware of and engaged in early literacy and postsecondary access projects year over year. That vision is what guides every effort the team undertakes, like restocking Little Free Libraries or raising awareness about the importance of completing the Free Application For Federal Student Aid. 

Valley Leadership and our newest leadership development program, Catalyze, opens the door for Arizonans to  explore and map out how they’ll make an impact, as well as the space to start doing just that. Join us!  

Bailey Reynolds is the strategic impact program manager for Valley Leadership. 

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