Leadership Retreats Resources

3 Steps to Knowing Your Wake

March 26, 2019
Lead Self
Jordan Epperson

It’s important to know your wake – to understand the influence and impact you have on those around you. In the same way a ship creates wake as it moves through the waters, you create impact on things around you as you move through life, whether or not it is your intent to do so.

Your wake can be positive or negative. In order to have a good, objective picture of yourself, it’s valuable to understand both your positive and negative influence. The more you understand yourself, the better you can add value in your various contexts.

Your positive wake is how you impact others for the better. Understanding your positive wake can help you identify strengths that you can leverage toward growth in relationships, serving others, and adding value in your contexts.

Your negative wake is how you impact others in unhealthy ways. Uncovering your negative wake can help you identify and address weaknesses and growth opportunities. Understanding your negative wake can make you more effective in creating a safe and healthy environment for others across your contexts.

Your wake can be based on two things: your personality or your position. Whether you have a position of leadership or not, you have influence that creates wake. Understanding the effect you have on others is an important part of your self-awareness journey.

 Here are three easy steps you can take to better know your wake:

01 | Identify Your Waters

Different waters often allow for different wakes. Start with identifying the contexts where you interact with others: home, work, volunteer spaces, etc.; these are your spheres of influence.

What are the contexts you enjoy the most or in which you feel the most comfortable? What are the contexts you enjoy the least or in which you feel the least comfortable? Sometimes your context can affect your attitudes, which impacts your behavior.

02 | Reflect on Moments

Once you’ve identified your contexts, take some time to reflect on specific moments in each context in which you’ve interacted with people. How might you have impacted the dynamic of the room? Put yourself in others’ shoes. What is it like to interact with you?

  • Do you notice any patterns in your behavior? In others’?
  • How do people respond to you?
  • Do people feel heard or understood?
  • Do people feel steamrolled or hindered from input?
  • Do people feel encouraged by you?
  • Do people feel challenged by you?
  • Do people feel they need more input from you?
  • Do people need you to step back a little bit?
  • How do people respond when you’re speaking?
  • Do people feel safe to joke and be themselves around you?
  • Do people shutdown or open up when you’re in the room?
  • How does the dynamic change as you enter or leave the room?

It’s important to be honest with yourself here. Remember to look for both positive and negative wake moments.


03 | Ask for feedback

To understand your wake, you must identify your blind spots. Asking others to help you recognize your wake is a great way to gain an understanding of how you may be unintentionally impacting others. Again, this can be negatively or positively.

From each of your contexts, ask one or two trusted people who know you well to provide input on how they experience you and how they see others experiencing you.

  • Be open and brace yourself – the honesty is good!
  • Ask people with whom you may have had conflict with in the past.
  • Ask people who enjoy working with you


Identify Themes and Adjust the Motor

After reflecting and seeking feedback, look for themes. Pinpoint recurring behaviors and attitudes that impact your wake. What about your position, personality, or context might impact your wake?

  • What about your personality brings out the best or worst of others?
  • What about your position (at work, home, or other places) changes your wake, or how people might interpret your behavior?
  • What about your context impacts your behaviors?
  • Look at your behaviors and ask, “Why?” or “Where is this coming from?” to identify possible attitudes that would impact your wake.


Address the negative wake as opportunities for growth. It can be hard to counter your instincts, so develop a plan to identify specific ways you want to manage your wake for the better. You may want to create a safe environment in which people feel heard, be intentional to provide input more clearly; you may even want to step back to let others shine.

Celebrate your positive wake and identify how you can leverage it as a set of strengths to create value for others and for your organization. Do you inspire people, uplift people, create energy, bring a team together, change perspective, or teach well? Identify moments in which you can step in and leverage your positive wake for the benefit of others.

A great way to change your wake is to create small actionable goals. Check out our Story-Goal eBook on how to create meaningful stories that will support your personal goals.

Knowing your wake is the first step to managing your wake. And those around you will thank you.

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