Feb 20 2014, 9:19am CST | by Forbes
It surprises me how many leaders don’t spend enough time thinking about their legacy – what they will leave behind for the organization and the people they serve. Webster’s dictionary defines legacy as, “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.” Legacy is not bound by age or time served. Legacy represents your body of work at each stage of your career as you establish the foundational building blocks and accumulate the required wisdom to contribute to growth, innovation and opportunity both in and outside of the workplace. Your legacy grows with each new experience, with each previously untested idea and bold ideal that you are courageous enough to deploy, and each time you inspire others to see something through to fruition.
For many, leaving a legacy is associated with the end rather than the beginning or the next phase in one’s career. Your leadership is not shaped and your legacy is not defined at the end of the road but rather by the moments shared, the decisions made, the actions taken, and even the mistakes overcome throughout the many phases of your career. Leadership done rightly is a reinvention process – a continuous discovery that informs your mindset, new skill sets and aptitudes. At each stage of your career, you learn how to keep creating sustainable impact and influence. With each step you take, you will identify new ways of mastering the fundamentals, which in turn provides you with greater clarity and depth of thought to further improve your leadership approach and communication style.
To date, I’ve experienced five significant phases in my career; this series of legacy stages has guided my leadership journey and shaped the leader that I am today – just as much as the mentors who taught me about the importance of legacy. I’ve been able to use the five phases of my career thus far as milestones to measure my progress and maintain strategic focus on my leadership trajectory. As part of this process, I’ve remained in close contact with those people who played important roles in my leadership growth and experienced it at each stage of my career to remind myself of how I’ve matured and course-corrected my way along this journey.
If you were to leave your current line of work today, what is the legacy you would leave behind? How would others define it? Are you paying attention to the feedback and how it can guide the next phase of your career and your ability to influence others?
If you were to evaluate the last 10 years of your career and its various stages, what is the story you would tell others about your legacy? If others told the story, would the same narrative hold true? Based on the narrative, what would the next 10 years look like? What would you change or do differently?
The best leadership legacies are a consequence of success coming to those who are surrounded by people that want their success to continue. When you can inspire those around you to take a leap of faith with you, you are creating a legacy defining moment in your leadership career. Whenever you have this opportunity, embrace it. Capture the moment and appreciate the inherent responsibility associated with it to guide and shape the overall experience. After the moment subsides, share the significance with your team and how it plays an important part of their legacy, too.
Here is another perspective you can get: review your resume and describe the legacy you left behind at each job. The legacies you can more easily define are related to those jobs that mattered most to you. They were more purposeful because you could contribute in meaningful ways that also inspired those around you. When you find it a challenge to identify your legacy, that particular job had less importance and impact on your career; in many cases, it may have taken you a step backward in your leadership progression, causing an awakening and a course correction to get your career moving forward again.
To help guide your sustainable success as a leader and keep you moving in the right direction, here are five stages of legacy building that will define the significance of your leadership:
1. Identity and Values
You must know and be extremely connected with who you are and what you represent as an individual and a leader. What are the values and beliefs that influence how you lead, your behavior and your attitude? Do others know the real you and what you represent as a leader for the betterment of a healthier whole?
Many would argue that Steve Jobs was in constant search until he discovered his own personal identity and value system. As it was captured by Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs’ biography, Jobs seemed to be in a constant treasure hunt for personal identity and this influenced many of his ideas and ideals. In many respects, Jobs was connecting the dots of his genius as a forward-thinking innovator throughout the various stages of his career.
2. Guiding Foundational Principles
Once you have been able to solidify your identity and set of values, how do they translate into a set of guiding principles that others can begin to expect from you? These principles should represent your most enduring ideas and ideals and set the tone for your performance expectations as a leader.
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch was known for growing fast in the slow-growth economy of the 1980’s by eradicating perceived inefficiencies, trimming inventories and dismantling bureaucracy. Welch’s guiding foundational principle was that a company should be either No. 1 or No. 2 in their particular industry, or else they should leave it completely. This approach and mindset was later adopted by other CEOs across corporate America.
3. Courage and Risk-Taking
As a leader, you must trust your gut and be courageous enough to take calculated risks. At times, this requires you to trust yourself enough to challenge the status quo and push the envelope of conventional wisdom – even if this means putting your reputation on the line./>/>
The legacy of Ronald Reagan is as strong as ever as U.S. political parties are in search of a narrative both sides can lean on to rebuild public trust in government and an example of how the President should lead. Reagan’s legacy was one based on courage and timely risk taking. Supporters have pointed to a more efficient and prosperous economy in the 80’s as a result of Reaganomics foreign policy triumphs including a peaceful end to the Cold War. As a result of his courageous actions and charismatic personality, Edwin Feulner, President of The Heritage Foundation, said that Reagan “helped create a safer, freer world” and that “He took an America suffering from ‘malaise’… and made its citizens believe again in their destiny.
4. Genuine Care to Advance Others
Understanding what inspires happiness in those who support your leadership is critically important. Throughout your leadership journey you must continue to learn how to better serve others and genuinely support their career advancement and overall engagement at work.
For example, I’ve always been passionate about elevating the market value of my employees’ talents. Though I never wanted my best talent to leave the organization I was serving, I felt a genuine responsibility to reciprocate the value they were adding to my success as a leader. This meant taking the time to understand them and working towards helping them accomplish their career goals. I made sure, as their mentor and/or sponsor, to give them the additional time and guidance they needed to prepare them for the next phase of their own careers.
5. Responsibility and Accountability
Legacy building is about being mindful of the opportunity and the responsibility you have to serve your own advancement by serving others. Only you can set the tone and define the performance standards that you expect for yourself and from others. As such, you must be incredibly self-disciplined to hold yourself accountable to consistently deliver to those standards every day, every step of the way.
When you think about it, legacy is the establishment of traditions that can be passed on to future generations. The model is the family business, where history and experience are directly passed on to children and other family members so that they can successfully take over and grow the business. As a leader, it is your responsibility to uphold the legacy and traditions of those that came before you – but equally you must hold yourself accountable to build upon those traditions to further strengthen the culture, human capital and brand of the organization you serve.
We see examples of this all the time that we can draw from. Tim Cook has continued to uphold and further the legacy Steve Jobs left behind at Apple. As the new owner of The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, will not only carry on its legacy but plans to build upon it in an effort to evolve the newspaper to the modern era.
Leaders who feel stuck in their careers are those that care more about recognition than respect. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, had it right when he said what he wanted his legacy to be: “To have created one of the most respected companies in the world. Not necessarily the biggest.” It is not until leaders desire to be significant that they discover the true meaning of leadership and legacy building. When this moment is realized, the lens that you see through becomes crystal clear; you begin to understand that being accountable for the advancement and success of others will ultimately define your significance as a leader.
Source: Forbes Business
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