Influencing Moments: What's At Stake?

Barbara Gruener · March 19, 2019

Every choice we make has stakeholders, a truth that comes crashing our way hard when something criminal happens, like the recent college-admissions bribery scandal. It’s not just the person who makes the poor decision, for example, who feels the consequences of that choice. In the case of paying money for a spot in a college, the child who was denied acceptance is a stakeholder in that decision to cheat.

My first attempt at explaining what a stakeholder is, exactly, to elementary-aged students wasn’t as successful as I would have liked it to be:

Me: Does anybody know what a stakeholder is?
Student One: Someone holding a steak?
Me: Sort of. But not the kind of steak that you eat.
Student Two: Wait, there’s another kind of steak? We don’t get it.
Me: Does anyone here go camping? {A few hands go up.} What keeps your tent from falling down?
Student Three: The poles.
Me: {Eager to be getting somewhere} Yes! And what keeps the floor of the tent from moving around?Deafening silence. Blank looks. Nervous awkwardness.
Me: Stakes. They’re called stakes. They hold your tent in the ground, to secure it.

Have I mentioned that this intro didn’t really go as planned?
So, I went a different direction.

Me: Basically, everybody has stakeholders. A stakeholder is someone who has a stake in your story, the people who are affected by the choices that you make, everyone that cares about your decisions.
Student Four: You mean, pretty much anyone who’s involved?



I knew that they got it when they’d come to me to talk, and our conversations started like this:
Mrs. Gruener, you are never going to believe how many stakeholders are in this story.
What came next was the thing that matters, the most important part, the point I didn’t want them to miss:
With our every interaction, we are making choices that matter to someone, maybe to a lot of someones, sometimes even to someones whom we had no idea were even remotely involved.

So how do we make sure that our decisions positively influence and inspire those stakeholders?
We owe it to our learners to teach them to stop, look, and think before deciding.

Stop: More often than not, our decisions don’t have to be made right there, on the spot, so the age-old advice to “sleep on it” rings true. Things often tend to be clearer in the morning. Take walks to help with clarity or process thoughts and feelings verbally through conversations with key stakeholders and/or through writing in a journal. Much think-through power exists in the ability and willingness to pause.

Look: This step invites us to take a closer look at all of your options. Leave no stone unturned when you look at all of the potential directions and outcomes.

Think: In this part of the decision-making process, we are encouraged to think through possible outcomes, the consequences of said decisions, and the stakeholders whom our decision will affect. This is another great opportunity to brainstorm every crazy possibility through lists or by drawing an if-then flow chart.

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Decide: Finally, it’s crunch time, when that decision has to be made. And while the aforementioned steps don’t serve as an antidote for failure nor do they guarantee success, once it’s time to move forward into deciding, we can rest assured that we’ve done our due diligence to make the best decision yielding the best possible result for everyone in this moment.

Back we go to what’s at stake in our decisions; we must always consider whom the decision affects. When we ask ourselves Who will care? we’ll quickly find our stakeholders.

Think back to the 1980’s television commercial for Faberge Organic Shampoo, the one in which Heather Locklear suggests that this shampoo is so incredible that you’ll tell your friends and they’ll tell theirs and so on and so on. I can still see the multiplier effect on the screen when two Heathers became four, then eight, then sixteen. Simply put, those people are our stakeholders because of their stake in our story.

Want to help students understand the gravity of their choices? Try this engaging activity by starting with a simple scenario to identify the stakeholders:

Imagine that your starting pitcher for your baseball team is running late for the game. Who will care? Invite seated participants to stand as they think of an answer to that question whereby representing that stakeholder in this situation. As the class brainstorms who the stakeholders are, expect everyone in the class to think about someone whom the tardiness of that one player affects, so that eventually the entire room is standing.

With intermediate-aged learners, go a little deeper: The school’s counselor is hit by a drunk driver. Who are the stakeholders?

With older students, use a headline from the news: Girl sneaks out of her room; killed during midnight joy ride. Who are the stakeholders?

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As with anything, our learning is in our reflection, so make sure to process through not only who the stakeholders are, but also why it’s important to thoroughly think through every decision we make. Ask how outcomes might have changed had different decisions been made.

An important reminder: Stakeholders aren’t just there in troubled times. Look for stakeholders to celebrate with us, too.

Try this: You earn a scholarship for your Rodeo Art. Who are the stakeholders? It’s likely that the entire class will end up standing as they represent the grandparents, the parents, the babysitters, the neighbors, the teachers, the friends, the judges, the college where you’ll use the scholarship, and so on and so on. It might just feel like a well-deserved standing ovation.

Compare and contrast your ability to influence moments with your every move by standing some dominoes or blocks up vertically and tap the first one to watch them all fall. Or drop a pebble into a bowl of water and watch it ripple out.

Looking for a few picture books to punctuate the concept of stakeholders? Check out Because by Mo Willems, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein, and One Voice by Cindy McKinley.


Barbara Gruener

Barbara Gruener thrives on positively influencing change, passionately helping people create caring connections, and intentionally improving a school's climate and culture. Her innovative and inspirational ideas are sparked by 34 years as a Spanish teacher and school counselor growing alongside students from every age and stage, Pre-K through 12th grade. A connected educator, Barbara loves leading supercharged character-development growth sessions with students, parents, teachers and administrators. Her book, What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, earned a Mom's Choice Gold Award for supporting caregivers with stories and strategies to use as they help develop character strengths in young people in school and at home. Though she grew up on a dairy farm in WI, Barbara and her family now call Friendswood, TX, home.