Think Impact to Make Informed Decisions

When I think back to my freshman year in college, I recall a professor returning my very first paper with a comment on the front page. It said: THIS READS LIKE THE YELLOW PAGES. His comment was humiliating and painful. It certainly didn’t offer me tools to improve the paper. Instead, the impact of his choice of words and method of delivery squashed my confidence as a student. All these years later I wonder what impact he was striving for. Or, perhaps on autopilot, he just wasn’t thinking.

Think impact to make informed decisions means stop and think before you act! Ask yourself — what do I want to have happen? To practice this commitment, slow down just enough to be intentional. Why? Our actions and words lead to benefits or drawbacks. The Optimistic Leader has intention — she knows her why and makes decisions guided by purpose.

Time to think gives space to decide how you want to adjust your actions and words to shape a desirable outcome. Whether in your personal or professional life, you have control over the impact you have. Let’s look at this in action with Sophia. In the first scenario, she simply acts.

Sophia arrives home exhausted and cranky from a hard work day. She knows she is tired and wants so much to relax and replenish her energy. When she walks into the house she is so let down by the morning’s dirty dishes, the dog barking to go outside, and her daughter, Nahid, on her phone in the next room. She snaps and yells at Nahid to get off the phone, take out the dog, and clean up the kitchen. Nahid hangs up, deals with dishes in silence, not once looking at her mother, and then goes to her room, shuts the door and they don’t speak for the remainder of evening.

Sophia knows what she needs but neglects to consider how her words and actions will influence her evening. Notice how she can shape a different experience by pausing to reflect on the evening she wants, creating a positive climate at home, enjoying some fresh air, and nurturing her relationship with her daughter.

Sophia arrives home exhausted and cranky from a hard day at work. She pulls into the parking lot of her building, turns off the car and puts her head on the steering wheel to close her eyes and take a breath. She envisions the evening that will help her to refuel. One more deep breath and she walks to her apartment. Opening the door, she sees the dishes in the sink and hears the dog barking. She tenses up and says to herself, “settle down”. Using this self-awareness to notice how irritated she is getting, she decides to go straight to her bedroom to wash her face and change her clothes. She writes a quick note to her daughter that says: “Hi — I hope you had a good day. Join me for a walk with the dog? Can you finish up your call in a few minutes?” A few minutes later, Nahid hangs up and together they take a walk, exchanging stories from their day. When they return thirty minutes later, Sophia asks Nahid to do the dishes while she begins cooking dinner. Relaxed and connected, they work side by side continuing their conversation.

Sophia’s brief pause to reset before getting out of the car to think about what she needs combined with her ability to quiet her static upon entering her home allow her to shape an experience that has a positive impact on her daughter and on her. A good evening leads to a better night of sleep. Being more rested in the morning means that she can show up more effectively at work the next day. The ripples of Think Impact are significant.

I think about the Five Commitments of Optimistic Leadership in three ways: me and my identity, me in relationship with another, and me in a group.

Think Impact — Me and My Identity. What does the commitment of “think impact” look like when we think about self and identity? Raashad is a preschool teacher who strongly believes in positive family partnerships. He understands that when children see the important adults in their lives having strong positive relationships, they feel nurtured and safe in their world. As he prepares for a new school year, this belief guides his thinking. Using his skills of self-awareness, he asks himself, when my new preschoolers and their families meet me for the first time, what impact do I want to have? Some of the decisions he makes include: sending two notes home to families before the opening of school. The first is a simple note to children letting them know how excited he is to meet them and their families. He includes a picture of himself with his family. The second is a note to families introducing himself and welcoming them to their child’s new classroom.

Think Impact — In Relationship with Another. As Raashad reflects on the interactions he will have with each new family, he thinks to himself: what words and actions can I use to convey open, honest, trusting, and two-way partnerships? How can I be sure that I’m respecting them as their child’s first teacher, offering them choices, and giving them voice in their child’s learning? What questions can I ask to learn more about them in a respectful, caring way? In his introductory letter he offers families choices about whether they prefer a home visit or a classroom visit or both prior to opening of school.

Think Impact — In a Group. It’s the first staff meeting of the school year and Raashad is sitting with his close colleagues. When Paula, the Director, starts talking about home visits, a collective groan moves through the room. Raashad is unsettled. He thinks to himself: this happens all the time. Activating curiosity, he considers whether and how to address it. Before he says anything, Paula, with a slightly irritated tone in her voice, says: I know a lot of you feel burdened by home visits. How many of you have them scheduled? Raashad looks around the room and sees his colleagues’ unease. For as long as he’s been in the program, this conversation happens every new school year without resolution. He decides that he’s ready to take action. Checking his own tone, he asks Paula and his colleagues: Before we move on with scheduling, could we take a few moments to notice how everyone is feeling about home visits and be curious about why the visits feel so hard? There is a general relaxation in the room and Paula acknowledges Raashad for raising the issue. Gradually, people begin to express their discomfort and reveal insecurities about entering someone’s home.

When we think impact, we own that our words and actions have the power to humiliate, motivate, hurt, heal, frighten, or comfort. Reflect for a moment about what it would be like if you and those around you thought more about the impact of words and actions. Reflect on your relationships and the emotional climate of your workplace. As Optimistic Leaders, I invite you to practice the commitment of think impact so that children can learn and grow in safe, comfortable environments and also have role models of intentionality.

© Leading for Children, 2020.

Leading for Children is a national nonprofit that empowers adults across the early childhood ecosystem to be leaders and learners.