The word impact has been used a lot lately, but what does it actually mean, and how does one drive impact and not just talk about it? The truth is, the world needs people like you and me to step up and be impactful. But how do we do it? Well, in his new book, Becoming a Leader of Impact, Braden Douglas shares a new definition of impact and how anyone can influence other people’s lives for the better. The book is packed with real-world examples and engaging stories to inspire you toward impactful change in all areas of life, from the personal and professional, to even the spiritual.
And in today’s episode, Braden shares with us what inspired him to leave his 9-to-5 job, how making the hard choices can lead to a better life, and how you don’t have to do it all alone. Enjoy.
Miles Rote: Hey everyone, my name is Miles Rote, and I’m excited to be here today with Braden Douglas, author of Becoming a Leader of Impact: How Your Influence Can Change the World. Braden, I’m excited you’re here. Welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Braden Douglas: Yeah. Thanks, Miles. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s great.
Miles Rote: Yeah, I can’t wait to talk about the subject in your book. I’m really excited in general to talk about leadership and impact. But before we dive into that, tell us first who you are and what inspired you to write this book.
Braden Douglas: Yeah, to give everybody a bit of background, I am from Canada. I have always been involved in leadership, whether it’s through high school, university, to early career. And I’m also a marketer. I worked at Procter & Gamble marketing fabric softener. Then I went to PepsiCo and Frito-Lay and marketed potato chips. Then I had a life turnaround where I really wanted to get out of that corporate chasing, ladder mentality, and really give back to the world and make it a better place. And so, I went to a nonprofit organization. I was a director of marketing there.
I realized I love nonprofits. I just didn’t want to be in them. I love business. I loved working with leaders. I realized that if you really want to make a difference in the world, if you can get entrepreneurs or people of leadership to really understand impact, they have the affluence, the influence, and the ability to really make things happen. I thought, “You know what? That’s what I really want to do.”
I started my own company and agency back in 2007. We’ve been fortunate. It’s grown quite rapidly, and we have now three offices. I also have been a part of an organization called Leader Impact, which is an organization that helps leaders have a better holistic understanding of what impact is through your professional, personal and spiritual life and how you can really leverage yourself to make a lasting impact in the lives of others. I’ve loved it. I’ve been involved, but I just felt that they never had a philosophy or a written kind of book on business written by a business leader and entrepreneur.
I thought, “I don’t want to write another boring leadership book. I really want to help this organization, as well as pour out in my life in philosophy and a story that really dovetails with theirs.” That’s where the book Becoming a Leader of Impact really came out of.
Miles Rote: Amazing. And I really want to dive into the definition of impact and really what that means. But before we do, it sounds like you have, as you mentioned, this kind of regular career path, and then you decided to make this left turn. Was there a deciding moment or something that happened that really made you kind of shift gears?
Braden Douglas: Yeah, that’s a great question. I remember, when I was about 25. So early in my career, I had been at Frito-Lay for about three years or more. I remember sitting down with the HR director, VP of HR, and they are going through this career pathing of high-potentials in the organization. They’re talking about, “Okay, you can then move up to this position and have a cross-functional opportunity in sales. Then maybe you can get a little bit of experience in operations. Then you can really move back into marketing and you’ll have a much more strategic angle. You can become a VP, or a senior VP, or a president one day.” I just remember thinking, “This is about selling potato chips, right?” This is my life, and it was all about career.
I started to take a look at all the different executives and realizing that you can be married to a job, and you can have this feeling of progression, and you can make a living. But I didn’t want to make a living. I really wanted to make a life.
Here’s the crazy part. I loved my job. I loved marketing. I really do, and I love even chips. Right now, I’m part owner of a potato chip company. And for me, I love that world. I just knew that if I got into it, I would be chasing titles, money, stock options, all these kinds of things that people think give them meaning, and give them purpose in life. I knew I had to get out. That was the moment that I felt that.
That’s when I started to look around and I moved to a nonprofit. I didn’t even really know much about the nonprofit world. An opportunity came through a friend that was into leadership and different things and I thought, “Oh, man! I love that. I love that world of leadership and personal development.” At the same time, I was really starting to get back into that faith side of my life and I thought, “You know what? That’s really what I want to do. I want to really make a difference in people’s lives.”
I was pretty naïve and young at the time. So, you make decisions that you maybe look back on and think, “I was probably a little bit too naïve.” I was moving across the country. I was in Toronto and moved across to Vancouver. My parents thought I was joining some weird cult. Everybody at Frito-Lay, even when I gave my resignation, the president brought me in and basically, they said that this is a career-limiting move that it’d be very difficult to come back into a consumer-packaged goods world. I thought, “Oh no! But I’m really going to take on the giant here and just do this.”
I went out West and I did it. Looking back, it was an amazing decision. I think maybe some decisions in life, if you know all the details, you probably wouldn’t make the decisions that you do. But you are glad, and the lessons and what you take from it in that journey is unique for everybody. So, I’m thankful for that.
What is Impact?
Miles Rote: It’s so true, and there had been so many very successful people that have said, “If I would’ve known how hard this would’ve been before doing it, there’s no way I would’ve done it.” Even writing a book, a lot of people can say that. So, part of that naïveté can actually play in your favor.
I think it’s more about really following those breadcrumbs where there’s something there. I don’t know what it is yet, but I need to follow it. So that’s amazing, and props to you for really following that, and now writing a book about all of this. Let’s get into impact. What does it mean to have impact or make an impact?
Braden Douglas: Obviously, that’s the title of the book, and I’m in marketing. I work with many organizations and we have hundreds of clients. Impact, right now, it’s such a trendy term. A lot of organizations, a lot of brands, they want to be known as making a difference and being good and doing good things in the world. There are so many different great causes.
I love this, but when it really comes down to it and having worked with these leaders–because it is still people making decisions–I felt that they were a little bit lost. They liked the idea of impact. They like this mantra, even millennials that we work with, they love this concept. But how do you really live it out, practically?
I felt that we needed a better definition and a better understanding of what impact is. So, a question that we ask is, “Think about somebody in your life that you would say has had an impact on you.” Take five seconds right now. Think about somebody in your life, whether it’s a boss, a coach, a teacher, a parent, sibling, friend, whoever that might be, and how did they have an impact on you? Do have somebody in your mind?
Miles Rote: Yeah. It would be my yoga teacher. I had 20 years of chronic pain, and he was someone who had a broken back, and stage IV cancer, and was addicted to drugs and alcohol and was in a wheelchair and found yoga. Then basically was the most flexible, grounded, amazing person I had ever met, who was like 75 years old. Just his whole story, and then what he then taught was very inspiring to me.
Braden Douglas: Totally. I want you to think about this. Think about that yoga instructor, which is amazing. That’s great. The way that I define impact is that it’s about your influence to create perpetual positive behavior in others. For example, there’s this old saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” We’ve all kind of heard this. Helping is about giving. The charitable philanthropy is about you’re giving a fish. And that’s great. And it’s really good. But that’s not impact. Impact is teaching to fish so that there is this ongoing, perpetual, positive behavior.
So, if you think about that in your own life, there is this moment where you had an instructor who gave you a vision, who invested into you, whether it’s through philosophy or even doing it by them living that lifestyle. Now you are on a path that is going to continue for years. You are now probably changed and you’re going to continue, whether it’s being more grounded, taking care of your body, all these can the different things that are going to actually help you have more positive influence in the world than if you had never met that person before.
Miles Rote: I love the definition so much. It really reframes I think how many of us instinctively relate to impact. I feel like it not only can be something that feels like it has to be from someone very important, but also something very conceptual. You just put it in a very practical way. What you’re saying is, it really doesn’t have to just come from leaders. Impact can come from anyone with that definition.
Braden Douglas: Well, and I think that’s the thing. Leadership is really about influence, and anybody can have influence. Some people have a title, if you’re a manager, if you’re a boss. You’re going to have that ability to have a little bit more influence over more people. Like celebrities, the bigger the platform, the more influence you can have. But anybody can be a leader if they’re having influence over others. It’s not about what you do. It’s about who you are.
That’s the biggest thing that I’m trying to get out through the book. Even when I’m working with organizations, your brand is not about specific charitable companies. It’s about who are you as a person making these types of decisions. Do you really care about the causes and the people that you’re helping, or do you want the benefits of the positive PR, or the benefits of leadership, or the good vibes on social media that you’re getting because of your acts?
I think there’s a big chance that if you really want to become a leader of impact, it has a cost to it. It’s not going to be super easy, and it takes intentionality. I think that’s what I’m trying to help people understand, is that this is a lifelong journey for you to become somebody that is going to have a major impact in somebody’s life. That is the legacy that you will ultimately live, how many people are you really able to influence in a better way? That collective of impact is really what creates a legacy.
Miles Rote: You bring up such a good point in the sense that so many people can get lost and focus on the means and not the ends. So, it’s about trying to get more likes on social media, which really, if you would ask that person, maybe their main goal is to make an impact, and to help people. But they’re so focused on these means that they can actually lose sight of the impact that they’re making.
I think you bring up an important point too. Not to say that none of this is without struggle or that it doesn’t come at a cost, but what I’m hearing you say is instead of wasting the cost and the struggle on the smaller things and not the main point, really, the focus should be how to really generate impact and make an impact.
Braden Douglas: Yeah, absolutely. The question I asked you is to think about somebody that has an impact on your life. It’s not always an easy question, especially when you’re put on the spot. We do this with leaders at Leader Impact all the time. When I’m speaking, I always start with this in the audience, because it forces you to really think practically about, “Well, who is that person?” I’ve done this exercise now with thousands of people. The follow-up question is, “How many people would have you in mind?”
I think that it’s meant to create a very vivid idea of, “Well, who would I actually say I’ve been that person in their life?” And that’s where sometimes you feel guilty and you think, “Oh my gosh! I need to do more. What am I doing with my life? This is crazy.” I think what it’s supposed to do is just to say this is about intentionality, and you have to say, “Well, do you really want to do this? Is this important to you?”
I find that people have great intentions, they are super well-meaning, but sometimes it’s just that they lose focus on what that really means. They hang out with the same friends and family and they see them all the time. By taking the time to actually say, “How can I help you get to where you want to be? How can I help you become a better person?” When you’re in a room, are you looking at those people and saying, “How can I really serve them, to really move them to that next level?” Doing that not because I may get something out of it, but because I really do care about them. That’s I think the biggest part.
What is Important?
Miles Rote: Yeah, and I think asking that question, how many people would name you as making an impact. Asking that question really snaps you back into that sense of, “Wow! That is the ultimate goal. That is what I want. And how does that make me feel then if knowing there are not as many people that would say that as I would like?” It almost like forces you back into thinking about it, which I really like. I liked what you said about intentions. People, I agree, do have good intentions, but that doesn’t mean that their actions are aligned with their intentions necessarily.
Braden Douglas: Totally. You know what? I would say having worked with a lot of people and having done this for years now, we all love to be important, to want to have success, to be able to have influence, and to be able to think of ourselves as giving, charitable good people. How we really want to make a big impact is something that I find most people don’t realize how important that is until they get much older and they start to reflect back on their life. They start realizing the sun is setting. Then they start looking at mentoring, “Oh my gosh! I have to give back. I’ve accumulated all this wealth for retirement and for what I thought was important.” They look back and realize, actually, it’s family, it’s friends. It’s the colleagues that you’ve worked with. It’s the customers and clients that you’ve had. It’s the consumers and the customers that you are dealing with on an everyday basis. That is really what starts to matter.
For me, I think it’s coming back to relationship and about how are you really building and impacting them. And for me, this book was to help people to become leaders of impact by integrating saying, “You can do this, but you have to integrate your professional, your personal and your spiritual life.”
If those aren’t aligned, then things start to go off into some different directions that could lead you down paths that you wake up one day and think, “Oh man! I missed it.” My hope is that we can get younger leaders to really live this life out. To change the definition of success to becoming how can I impact more people? How can I be that type of leader? And imagine the decisions, imagine the strategies that would be created if you can really change somebody’s heart and mind. That, for me, is really why I wanted to get this book out to help people really get excited about that.
Miles Rote: Right. So, let’s say there are listeners out there right now. They don’t want to get to that place where they’re older and then have that regret of wishing that they made more impact and they want to do something. How can we lead a life of impact? In your book, you talk about the LeaderImpact assessment that you utilize as well as the leader impact model. How can those tools help people get on the path of being more impactful?
Braden Douglas: Well, I think that the reason that we created the LeaderImpact assessment was to help people understand, “Well, where am I at today? Is that important?” Because if you really have to make the decision and answer, “Do you want to become a leader of impact?” I would say most people would say, “Sure. That sounds great.” Then saying, “Well, if you want to do that, let’s first take an inventory of where you’re currently at.”
The LeaderImpact assessment looks at your professional life. For me, you have to be good at what you do in order to have credibility. Credibility is what gives you influence. That credibility might be social credibility. But with leaders, this is about professional credibility. If you’re not good at what you do, people are not going to listen to you and they won’t take you seriously. I think this is where I believe that if you really want to get better, you want to become a better professional so that people will say, “You know what? I’m going to listen to Miles on this topic because you know what? He knows his stuff and he’s really good.”
So, the LeaderImpact assessment helps you understand where you are currently in your professional life. What does that look like for you? It’s not meant to measure you necessarily against others around you. It’s really taking your own inventory. Then we look at your personal life and this is really about relationships and personal health. I know that you’re now into yoga and these different things, but your body and what you feed yourself and the energy that you have is so paramount. Most people, who have the most influence, affluence, and contacts are in their 50s and above. You have a lifetime of all these different things. That’s where I find that leaders either take themselves out of the game because they just don’t have the energy, or they get sick. Their bodies aren’t as good as what they had before. They start to wind down, where I think, “Man! What a waste!”
If you could take that time–even that 60-year-old yoga teacher, that’s amazing. He’s out there. You’re teaching. You’re inspiring. You’re impacting people. That’s what we want.
Then it’s really about relationships and your personal life is going to be about those relationships that you’re building, that you are sowing. Good relationships are about communication, emotional intelligence, and being able to empathize with others.
Then we’d look at your spiritual life, and this is about peace. This is about patience. This is about kindness, about goodness. We talk about faith. For me, when I was 25, I came back and really understood, “Okay, I think there’s more to life,” and I started looking at all these different religions. For me, it came back to Jesus and wanting to follow him, but not becoming a crazy Christian. Really living, “No. If I’m going to do this, I want to be real and really follow in that way.”
Out of that comes motivation about serving others. It’s not about you. This is about other people. Your motives and how you think about others are not driven by, “Oh, I’m going to try to win somebody over here so that we can then drive sales or I can get my agenda passed through the company and maybe make more friends and network so I can maybe get ahead in life and get more followers on social media,” or whatever it is. This is about saying, “No. Actually, I really do care about people legitimately and I’m going to impact them even if it’s not popular, even if I don’t get any rewards, even if it may even hurt me, but it’s the right thing to do.” I think that only comes through a strong spiritual life. Or people will say, “Well, why would I do that? That’s weird.”
Miles Rote: Right.
Braden Douglas: In the book, I talk about why they’re so important and give people a little bit of a different paradigm towards it.
You Need People
Miles Rote: Yeah. You mentioned that there is a lot in this. You talk about all of these different dimensions of impact. As you mentioned before, this isn’t something that is necessarily easy. It is the work but if you focus on the ends instead of means, you can get closer to it. In your book, you talk about, “Hey, you don’t have to do this all alone, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re doing this all alone.” So, what does that look like as far as setting our life up in such a way where we are supported to be someone who can be impactful?
Braden Douglas: It’s a great question, and it’s one of the last chapters in the book. I was watching this documentary on this successful car dealership out of Michigan. Lots of money, and it was a kind of one of those cribs episodes where they’re walking through his mansion and looking at stuff. He came to this fountain, and it was a sculpture of the self-made man. He looked at it and he looked into the camera and he says, “This defines my life. That I came from nothing. I built a successful business. Look at what I’ve done. I’ve made it. I was a self-made man.”
I sat back and I felt so sorry for him, and I felt sorry for his employees because when you’re in leadership, you absolutely realize that no one succeeds alone. There are people, whether it’s employees, suppliers, customers, family, friends, they have all supported, and encouraged, and built you, and given you opportunities to where you are now. That is so important.
I think a lot of leaders think, “I have to do personal, professional, and spiritual development on my own. It’s about becoming more of myself.” Well, that’s actually not true. What you need is you need people in your life.
I call it a guard, a pusher, and a board. A guard is somebody in your life that really helps guard you against taking on too much. They guard you from your own behavior and actions. They can speak truth to you in a way that you’re not going to get offended. But you need that person. For many, it’s their spouse. That’s my wife, Jen. She does that really well, and she knows me exceptionally well. For others, it might be a family member. It could be a parent. It could be a best friend. But you need that somebody that really helps guard you.
The second person you need a pusher. You need that person or those people in your life that push you to want to live a life of impact because it’s not easy. And you can get distracted. But you need somebody that’s going to help push you into opportunity and help say, “No. You can do this.”
When I went to El Salvador in 2004 with LeaderImpact, there was a guy named Nathan Hildebrandt. And he’s from Saskatoon, and he was down there, and he was organizing all these different speaking opportunities and events. There was a large one that was happening at a university with a lot of young professionals and he said, “Okay, Braden. You’ve got today and tomorrow to prepare. Tomorrow night, you’re going to be doing the keynote.” I said, “Nathan, I’m not ready. I don’t know how to do a keynote. I mean, what am I going to say?” And he said, “No. No. You can do it. You’ve got basically four hours to put something together because of the time that it takes. So, you stay up late, you’re doing this.”
I just felt totally unprepared, and out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to embarrass myself with all these people. I had to use a translator because my Spanish is minimal. I remember, he was somebody in my life, and he pushed me to do it, and the result was fantastic. Was it the best speech or best keynote? Probably not. But it was good enough at the time.
I think a lot of people, we need to push people. Is the result better than what you could do? Maybe not. But giving them opportunities that are going to push them.
The last one you need is a board. That for me has been the LeaderImpact group of leaders. There are many different business groups that are out there, whether it’s Vistage, or Young Presidents Organization, YPO, or all these other kinds of peer groups that are out there. You really do need that group of people who are like-minded, who want to see you succeed, who are going to keep you accountable, who you can wrestle through, and who can help you develop personally and professionally and spiritually. There’s not that many that can hit all three groups.
That’s why, for me, LeaderImpact was such a good fit, because it hit all three. But when you meet, you realize that you’re going to help impact other people, but they’re also going to be able to do that for you. You can’t do it alone. It’s not like you’re just isolated, trying to make these things happen. You have to really be intentional with the people that you’re around and they’re intentional with you.
Be Yourself, Just Better
Miles Rote: Yeah, I love that. I’ve never heard that broken down in that way. I think it’s such a great way to think about it. You’re so right too. We actually don’t even want the same person to do all three of those because it would become in conflict with one another. Because how do you guard and how do you push at the same time? So, I really like the vision and way of thinking about it.
There are so many other things where you’re not doing it alone. You can set up your life to support you, buy the food that you eat, decide how much you’re in nature, and exercise and connect with your spirituality. So, I really love that.
To me, basically a lot of this boils down to a chapter in your book called “Be Yourself, Just Better.” Tell us a little bit about that and how essentially we can continue to be who we are, but use these resources, these other people in our lives, and the way of thinking about impact to actually become better.
Braden Douglas: That chapter, when I wrote it, it was a story of how I played varsity soccer at university, and there was a coach and he had different styles for different players. He was always on me. Just digging into me, and I still remember just working so hard and then I’d come off at half time or whatever and he’d be like, “Braden, you’re dogging it out there. We need more from you. What’s wrong? Get your head in the game.” And I thought, “Oh my gosh! I feel like I was given everything here.”
But you know what it did? It really instilled this element of passion where I could go back out there and be like a man on fire. I think that, for me, my philosophy is that people have more potential than they realize. They have more in them than they give themselves credit for. I want to be able to wake that up and help them realize that they can make a significant impact in other people’s lives and are going to have such a ripple throughout society.
I think sometimes we either settle for, “Oh, these are my skillsets. Or this is my job. Or this is who I am. This is what it is.” There is nobody else like you in the entire world. No one else. No one else has your story, your history, your talent, your ability. You are absolutely unique.
Our job as people is not to be okay with mediocre. Is to say, “What’s really important to me, and how do I go after it, and how do I really make an impact in the lives of others and really keep getting better and keep doing this?”
It is staying absolutely authentic to who you are. Don’t try to become somebody else because you think you have to. Be who you are, but always be improving. Always be looking for how you can I get better How do I make other people’s lives better in a way that is true, that is loving, that’s serving?
I had a conversation with an executive that worked at our company two years ago. I remember him telling me about his strategy to get internal buy-in on an organizational change. I remember him saying, “Okay. Well, I’m going to take this person out for lunch and get them on my side. And then I’m going to talk with these people and we’re going to strategize about this. I’ll tell them about this opportunity, but we won’t give it yet, because we don’t have the money for it.”
He thought this was brilliant. He was being a great politician and really being strategic internally. I remember thinking in this meeting while he’s telling me this plan, “Oh my gosh! What are we becoming?” He was doing it out of sincerity of what was in the best interest of the business.
What it really woke up in me was that if we want what’s in the best interest of people, the business will take care of itself. We have the best interest of our customers, or our clients and the people that work for us, that is where we’re going to start to create that. If we can’t tell people the truth and love and have them understand it, then they might be on the wrong bus.
I remember that was a moment where I had to make some major changes and had to let him go, and some other changes which had major financial implications on our company. It had major implications on some of the staff that left because I made that call. It was really hard. We actually went through a tough period of time, and it had a big cost.
Interestingly, I just actually looked at the stats yesterday. Our net promoter score was the highest it has ever been in the last eight months to a year. We’re seeing the culture change. We’re seeing that ripple effect. I think as a leader, to become a leader of impact, it’s not easy. It’s not always going to be popular. But are you willing to do it because it’s the right thing to do? Are you willing to go through that fire? Willing to go through the financial pain because it is in the best long-term interest of others? I always believe that truth wins in the end.
If you’re able to do that and make those hard calls, because you want to create that type of culture and create that type of organization, then you need to do it. That’s why you need that pusher. You need that board. You need those people with you so you can say to them, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking is. Am I crazy? Or is this right?” Because you have to check yourself sometimes too. That’s why I’ve always been very thankful for these people around me, because I can’t do this alone and I can’t succeed alone, especially if you want to live this type of life and be this type of leader.
Miles Rote: Amen to that. Thank you for doing the hard thing and choosing to do it for the sake of trying to drive impact and writing this book, because writing a book is no joke. So, congratulations on doing it and getting it done–getting the hard thing done. And if readers could take away one or two things from your book, Braden, what would they be?
Braden Douglas: I think we covered a lot, but if I had to say, there are three things. Number one, choose to want to become a leader of impact. That’s number one. Number two is to realize that it does come at a cost. Yes, it’s going to take time. You have to take the time to actually read a book, to dig into it, to want to improve in that area. It’s going to cost you financially. If you’re going to build into somebody else’s life, it’s going to take your time. Sometimes it’s going to take money, whatever it may be. That’s the second thing, it does have a cost.
The third one really is that it’s absolutely worth it. When you really start to see these stories of people that are living this life, and see the impact that they’re having on others and the humility that they have. You realize, no one succeeds alone. My hope is that when somebody asks that question of me or they’re going to ask it of you, and if you’re listening to this, if they’re going to ask you one day, “Who has had an impact in your life?” I hope that there are more people that say your name than there would have before. That, for me, would be huge.
If you could have that type of impact, think of the legacy that you will leave. That’s my hope, is to really help inspire. Writing this book, I didn’t want to write it like a typical book and have these principles, but fill it with fun stories and unique language, to help people say, “Hey, this life is really fun.” It is the absolute, greatest way to experience this world and to really help others. It’s going to be tough. That’s why we’re going to do it together because this is how movements are created and this is how world change happens.
Miles Rote: Love it. Braden, this is been such a pleasure. I’m so excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called Becoming a Leader of Impact: How Your Influence Can Change the World. You can find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Braden Douglas: I’ve got my own website, Braden Douglas. So, B-R-A-D-E-N Douglas, bradendouglas.com. Or you can never reach out to me on LinkedIn, or Instagram, wherever that is too. I would love to connect. I would love to hear your stories of how you’re doing that. If you read the book, obviously, we want the reviews. More importantly, for me, I want to know how it has maybe impacted your own life. That’s the point of this whole exercise.
Miles Rote: Amazing. Thank you, Braden. And thank you to all the listeners. Here is to living a life of impact. Thanks again.