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10 Big Ideas for Impactful Leaders


Last Friday I had the opportunity to sit with 8 other local leaders for the Business Record’s annual 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes and speak about ideas, both large and small, that could be applied to any organization. 

These ten ideas represent some of the most important attributes of an impactful leader. We then had the opportunity to expand on one or two of them at the event.  

Watch Sarah Noll Wilson Speak at the 2021 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes Event 


Freedom Over Flexibility at Work 

Organizations need people to be effective at leading processes, projects, and people. The truth is that if you do not support your people, the other two will always suffer. One thing we can do is create a culture of autonomy and ownership through systems and policies.  

ACT: At our company, we believe in freedom of work schedule versus controlling time. People can work when, where, and how they want. We are clear on deadlines and expectations, and the rest is up to them. When people have autonomy, they work in the best ways for them, not just for me. Result? They are more engaged and produce great work.    

We Aren’t as Self-Aware as We Think We Are 

I used to think self-awareness was a destination one arrives at versus the never-ending journey. Dr. Tasha Eurich, a self-awareness researcher, asked 5,000 people to self-assess their self-awareness. Close to 90% reported being “highly self-aware.” Next, they evaluated behaviors to assess actual self-awareness, and the number dropped from 15% to 10%.  

ACT: Think of an important goal. Instead of identifying steps to take, ask, “What am I doing or not doing that conflicts with my goal?” Challenge yourself to be honest even if it is not comfortable. By understanding when you don’t show up at your best, you can catch those moments and choose differently.    

Trust is Impossible to Build in the Moments You Need It 

In every interaction we have with another person, we either increase, sustain, or decrease trust. How often do you slow down to notice where you are on that continuum and, more importantly, where the other person is? Fun fact: Distrust is often silent. We don’t decide if we are trustworthy or not; others do.  

ACT: Conduct a relationship audit. Write down the names of people who are essential to your world and work. Then mark them as strong trust, conditional trust, or low trust. Consider doing a relationship check-in by asking, “What could I amplify, do new, or do differently to make this a powerful partnership?”    

Constantly Ask: Is this a Rule, or a Possibility? 

This pandemic challenged every norm. What we did, how we did it, and whom we did it with was thrown out. While we were figuring out our next steps, so were our clients. People fell into a common trap that limited their growth by confusing something as a rule instead of just a possibility. “Sarah, we won’t be able to build relationships virtually.” Me: “Is that a rule or just a possibility?” Cue new ideas and paths forward.  

ACT: When ways of being and doing have been around a while, it serves us to ask, “Is this an actual rule we have to follow or just one way of doing this?” When you realize it’s the latter, innovation can emerge, and growth evolves.    

Feel All Emotions; Don’t Fight Them 

Emotions, we all got ’em. Even when we might wish we didn’t. There is a hyper positivity movement in our culture. While positivity can be a powerful perspective to help you look at a situation differently, it isn’t the only option. The research found that people who habitually avoid acknowledging challenging emotions end up feeling worse. Whereas people who tend not to judge their feelings as good or bad and tend not to avoid them tend to have better mental health across the board.  

ACT: Instead of fighting your emotions, allow yourself to feel them without shame. Take a breath and notice what you are thinking and feeling. A question I ask myself in these moments is, “What am I learning about myself in this moment?”    

With Great Power Comes Greater Responsibility 

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that you have authority and power when in a formal leadership position, which gives you privilege, from financial benefits to decision-making control to impacting opportunities for others. The idea of power can make people uncomfortable. “I know I’m the CEO, but I’m just Gina.” Sometimes we can forget that power in how we show up and what we ask of others. For example, if I ask people to speak up more, I must understand that I have a much lower risk because of my power as an owner.  

ACT: Ask yourself, “How can I use my power for a greater impact on the people in my company and community?”    

Inclusion is Non-Negotiable for Leaders 

My colleague Gilmara Villa-Nova Mitchell, DEI leader, told me, “You cannot be a great leader if you can only lead people who look and sound like you.” While I consider myself open and supportive to all, I wasn’t intentional about inclusion. I didn’t see (and still don’t always see) where I may exclude others. Great teams exist when everyone feels safe to be their true selves.  

ACT: One small but powerful action we can take is diversifying the voices we follow and from whom we learn.    

Don’t Wait Until Someone is Promoted to Develop Them 

Often the only people who receive any consistent or meaningful development in companies are those in formal leadership positions — with development not happening until they are an official “leader.” The risk is that people are put into roles where they can make or break not only a project but also people. Investing in developing at all levels not only sets people up for tremendous success for future roles but helps expand their possibilities in their current role.  

ACT: Develop the whole person and not the role.    

Don’t Feed the Elephants in the Room 

I’ve been working the past decade to overcome my avoidance of conflict. What we gain in the short term when avoiding conflict rarely outweighs the damage in the long term. I will hear people speak about the elephant in the room as if it is a person — but it’s not. A person, process, or project may cause issues, but our avoidance ultimately creates the elephant. When we avoid acknowledging, it’s like we are giving peanuts to keep the elephant around.  

ACT: Don’t feed the elephant! One thing we can do is to get curious about why we might be avoiding it. What is our fear? What’s the cost of avoidance?    

Be a Chronically Curious Leader 

My entire career, I was rewarded for knowing. Having the correct answers feels good, doesn’t it? I learned the hard way that there were situations that didn’t have a single correct answer, assumptions I’ve made that were incorrect, or people I judged critically. When I was focused on being right, I missed opportunities for getting it right. Want to build powerful relationships? Get curious about them. Want to solve a complex situation? Get curious about possibilities.  

ACT: Instead of assuming you know; assume you don’t know. Assume that there are always unknowns about a situation, the people around, and even yourself. 


What would you add? We would love to hear from you!  


Comments (1)

Hi Sarah,
Love these!!!!
Here are some that I love too:

Be Candid and Caring at the same time!
What if I could talk without having to protect, defend of hide anything?
How am I – in the way – of my own development/ awareness?
Which perspective am I not seeing?
Whose perspective am I ignoring?
Who do I need to be kinder to?
Who could I listen better to?

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