Leadership is not just about what you do and how you do it. It’s also about what you leave behind.
You do not own your position and title, you are just a caretaker, a custodian of the responsibilities until the time comes to hand them to the next person. What will you leave? What will be your legacy?
I have often asked Leaders this about their legacy. What did they want to leave? They rarely talk about achievement and results, they talk mostly of people and teams and culture. They hope they have helped others to be better or cleared the way for them to be successful or left something strong and lasting and meaningful. Perhaps they have played a hand in the development of other Leaders.
In the heat of battle, we are obviously and quite naturally focused on the task at hand, we just don’t have time to think about our legacy. There’s a number hit, a project to deliver, a strategy to be executed. We are focused on delivering outcomes and ensuring those we lead have a similar focus and are performing at their best. There is immediate pressure.
In that environment, we can get so self-contained, so self-absorbed that we can only see the here and now. But each decision we make, each step we take, leads to something, something that we will eventually leave to someone that comes after us.
What do we stand for?
Surprisingly, very few leaders actually take time to think about and define their legacy and yet, if they did I can't help but think it would make them so much better as leaders.
Why? Because it can be a guiding light for the things you do each day and more importantly how you do them.
I recently worked with a small technology company that in five short direct statements defined what they stood for. It was developed mostly by the employees themselves with some guidance from the Leadership Team.
I then watched them over the days, weeks and months that followed, consistently refer back to those standards. The foundation of all their decisions and actions was based on what they stood for. Everything had to pass through that filter. It was not forced, it actually came quite naturally to them, once what they valued was clear.
The word ‘legacy’ was never mentioned, but without knowing it, that is what they had created. A set of principles that guided their behaviour and who they wanted to be and what they would pass on to those that followed.
Why defining your Legacy is important
Having watched this team I couldn’t help but think, what if each Leader was as clear about what they stood for? If clear principles guided their decisions, actions and behaviour each day? If all decisions were made under the conscious effort to leave something strong and worthwhile?
I can think of two reasons why it’s critical.
First, it provides space. Once Legacy becomes central to your thinking you have to step away from the situation you are facing, if only for a moment, from decisions and actions, to ask yourself THE most important question, “Is this what we stand for?” It forces you to check yourself and to ask, “If I do this am I comfortable with the consequences? Is this consistent with what I stand for?”
Second, and this becomes obvious when you talk to leaders about Legacy, is that it is rarely about you. Your thinking almost always gravitates to others. It becomes a more selfless decision of what is true and right for your team, the people you are leading.
There is an extreme selflessness about Legacy. It means you are thinking about people you may not even meet. About something you will not be part of.
The All Blacks, New Zealand’s National Rugby Team and a symbol of the nation, have over the years become just as famous for their strong Team Culture as they have for their winning performances. They have a simple statement about Legacy.
Leave the Jersey in a better place.
The choices we make determines our legacy. Know what you stand for, take your time and choose wisely.