Stepping Up

"Stepping up is seeing a need and deciding YOU are the right person to do something about it."

- Stepping Up, page 5

John Izzo has decided that you ARE the right person to do something about “it” (regardless of what “it” is.)  In Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, Izzo takes on helping you figure out what “it” is, convincing you to take action, and providing suggestions on “how” to do so.

Izzo aims to convince you to step up by sharing how others, from all walks of life, have stepped up and showing what has happened when they did so. His examples include the following:

  • The owner of a small wholesale paint store who stood up to the Mafia in Naples, Italy
  • Two young teachers who took on education reform
  • An accountant who is doing her part to rid the world of the plastic contributing to the floating Great Pacific Garbage Patch (
  • A homeless dumpster diver who started a recycling program that now employs hundreds of homeless people

Each chapter of the book focuses on a point in support of two main messages Izzo wants to convey about stepping up into leadership.  The first message is that you can make a difference, that really anyone can make a difference.  His second message is that it’s okay to start small . . . as long as you start something.

To help readers get started, Izzo ends each chapter with a section titled, “Ways to step up” where he provides two or three suggestions on how to step up.  Below are two examples of the practical suggestions that Izzo provides in these sections:

Catch yourself blaming someone for a problem. When you find yourself in that position, ask yourself, “In what way am I contributing to the problem?” Ask, “what can I do to make things better?”

Question your hesitation.  When tempted to stay on the sidelines, ask which you will regret more, trying without success or holding back.  In most cases, thinking it through causes us to realize that failure or moderate success is much more palatable than having never tried.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

You ARE a Leader

"Not only is leadership not a position, but the truth also is that you can’t not lead."
- Stepping Up, page 91

People often view leadership as a responsibility that comes with a position (manager, director, vice president, etc.) The truth is, however, that each and every one of us “leads” every day.  Whenever we encounter a problem or situation and choose to act, or not act, we are leading.  We might not always be aware of it, but we cannot help but have an influence (and thus “lead”) the people around us.  In Izzo’s words, “simply by showing up a certain way in our life and work, each of us creates a ripple even if we don’t intend to.”

Hmm…  damned if I do, damned if I don’t…

For those who are not convinced of this, Izzo asserts that when we suddenly find ourselves sounding or acting like one of our parents, we are showing that our parents are influencing us without intending or trying to do so (in fact, they don’t even have to be physically present to do it.)  And, he says that if your parents are doing this, you are doing it too – not just to your kids, but to everyone you encounter.

So, guess what? Regardless of whether you wanted to, you’ve already stepped up. You are already a leader.

If you’re like me, then after learning this, you’re probably thinking that you’d rather lead intentionally than unintentionally.  To this end, Izzo suggest that we consider how we are using the influence that we already have.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Stepping Up with Intention

"One way to get in touch with how you want to be influential is to ask yourself what your intention is every day.  That is, in what ways do you want to influence others every day, just by the way you show up."
- Stepping Up, page 92

The suggestion Izzo makes in the quote above is a very simple and very powerful way to step up and make a difference. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone started their day by deciding on and then declaring their intention.  How would things change at home if you reminded yourself daily that you intend to show your family members that you love them?  How different would your workplace be if you decided to bring courage, compassion, or hope to others in the office?

Personally, I found this idea inspiring and have begun to practice it.  I can tell you that it has made a difference in my life.  Give it a try.  You don’t have to go public with your intention and announce it to your family or colleagues for it to work.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Scaling Down Stepping Up

"Find one thing. Think of something at work, in your life, or in the world that you want to do something about."
- Stepping Up, page 75

Often, when I notice a problem that I wish would change (e.g. garbage on the side of the road), I quickly come up with grandiose plans in my mind to rid the world of the problem (e.g. a combination of a series of community clean-up events, newspaper editorials, radio interviews.)  Although I’d like to believe that some of my plans would work, the reality is that I often let the complexity of my plans prevent me from even taking action (my usual excuse is that I just don’t have time or energy to implement the plan). Apparently, I’m not the only person who does this.

For those who suffer from this problem, Izzo suggests that we stop trying to “hatch a master plan” and focus instead on identifying one thing that we can do now, immediately, to “move in the direction of the change you seek.”  So, if I apply this to my displeasure at seeing garbage on the side of the road, I could choose to keep garbage bags in my car trunk and stop to pick up garbage when I see it instead of organizing a series of community clean-up events.  Or, I might set aside an afternoon to visit a place where I’ve noticed a lot of litter and just take it upon myself to pick things up.  The point is that doing something, regardless of how small, is better than making big plans and then doing nothing.


John Izzo ends Stepping Up by admitting the desire to leave the reader with some profound, inspirational statement, something memorable.  Instead, he ends by expressing his hope that his book will cause readers to take action, to “step up” and make a difference in the world.  He writes, “It is my hope you will focus even more on taking responsibility and even less on pointing fingers.  I hope you will stop trying to get others to change and focus even more on trying to change yourself.  I also hope that you will assume you can change things and do what you can, while encouraging others to step up even if it seems naïve of them to try.”

Izzo has succeeded with me.  After reading Stepping Up, I find myself stepping up more frequently and in more parts of my life.

How are you stepping up?

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Art Bingham

ABOUT Art Bingham

WHO ARE YOU? I am a learning and development professional with over 20 years experience in leadership, team, and organizational development; corporate training; and corporate coaching...
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