Everyone matters. Everyone makes a difference.
The cynic might argue that he or she can choose to be neutral and make neither a positive nor a negative difference. In practice, that just isn’t so.
Have you recently encountered a person who just didn’t seem engaged? They seemed wrapped up in their own private world, and the perception is that you weren’t important enough to gain admittance. Don’t you hate it when you are ignored? Of course if you were to press that person, they might tell you they were simply “neutral.” They might not be helpful or interested in you, but they weren’t doing you any harm either.
It is something like the bystander at a mugging who chooses not to get involved. After all, there is a risk to him if he does. And the victim wonders why his situation didn’t merit any help or intervention.
The greatest insult in the marketplace (or in life for that matter) is indifference. To attempt neutrality, I can’t really engage you in a meaningful way. The perception becomes, “You don’t matter enough for me to engage. I’ll just ignore you.”
Back to my premise: everyone makes a difference, and the choice is to make a positive or a negative one. Perhaps philosophically there is a place of neutrality, but in terms of perception there isn’t.
So at the end of the day, the question is, did you make a positive or a negative difference to others?
To your client who was in a pinch and needed immediate attention?
- To your son or daughter who wanted you to read to him or her when you were busy preparing for the next business day?
- To the person on the jogging trail who said good morning to you without a response?
- To the person daydreaming at the traffic light who’s lack of attention merited a blaring honk of the horn?
- The positive or negative differences above vary only in magnitude. The principle is the same. By choosing not to make a positive difference we almost always make a negative one.
Our actions and behaviors matter often more than we realize. We need to live not in a paranoid state of anxiety but a thoughtful state of awareness that what we choose to do can improve, even if only in some small way, the quality another’s business or life.
For a sales person, calling on customer accounts is activity; making a positive difference to those accounts is accomplishment. Managing people is a needed activity, but taking time to lead them is a significant accomplishment.
Seen in that light, what percentage of your day is activity versus accomplishment?
It begins with a simple intention each day to build into the lives of those you do business with. That doesn’t necessarily mean you intervene in a personal family matter, but it might mean you provide a little encouragement to the discouraged. It won’t enable you to help someone overcome a nasty game of office politics, but helping him or her be more knowledgeable about company culture and protocol could make a real positive difference.
Who wants to go through life like some kind of vapor, neither interacting with nor positively affecting others? Who wants to spend 8-10 hours a day on a job that doesn’t matter and not feel good about their effort when they turn in for the night?
The antidote to insignificance is to live purposefully. To those who think their job isn’t significant, leaders remind them to make it significant by how they do it. A leader understands that what he or she does is significant. The first job of leadership then becomes to prove significance to others; to demonstrate to them their own ability to choose to make a positive difference at every opportunity.
Begin each day with the intention to make a positive difference in what you do, who you do it with and who you do it for. Remind and demonstrate to those you lead that they choose to make a positive or negative difference and that in practical terms, neutrality is a myth. End each day with a quick review: what differences did I make today?
Leadership is about being a difference maker to the difference makers.