Effective Ways to Create a Lasting Leadership Legacy

While in Canada addressing an audience of community leaders, I had a profound sense of the amazing generosity of the human spirit. Don’t get me wrong, I read newspaper’s replete with greed, avarice, crime, armed conflict and senseless acts of violence but the people in that room were probably very much like you. They wake up in the morning asking how can I make the world a better place by day’s end. Clearly, this group had a track record of success, they were the “movers and shakers” of their community involved in business, politics, the arts, and all aspects that make a city thrive. Like you, they are the familiar faces on community boards and the mentors of budding entrepreneurs. So what does one say to such an august audience?

I was slated to speak on leadership and I began in the safe zone of recounting trends in leadership research. I knew full-well that these were veteran leaders and that the scientific literature had little to offer that they weren’t already putting into practice every day. That led me quickly to the central theme of my presentation. A theme that I believe I needed to hear as much as any of them in the room. It is the theme of leadership legacy.

By legacy, I am talking about a well-designed, well-crafted concept of what lasting influence we seek to leave with the world. Stephen Covey puts it this way start “with the end insight” and John Maxwell says “people will summarize your life in one sentence. Pick it now.” So I asked members of that audience, as I ask you now, what do you want your leadership legacy to be? In essence, what do you want people to say about you as a leader after you leave?

Using my life as an example, there have been times where I have been drawn into activities to prove to myself that I can master them. While my efforts may have resulted in success, those areas of pursuit were not substantive. As such, it’s not simply a matter of asking what you want to accomplish. It’s that important distinction between success and significance. In essence, what will be the lasting significance of your leadership?

I watch organizations address this legacy question by strategically developing corporate social responsibility programs. Typically, visionary leaders seek to target social giving efforts to leave a lasting footprint in a few key areas of need. Given that the scope of social needs are so great, corporate leaders often have to discipline themselves to focus their giving efforts to maximize the utility of each dollar donated or each hour volunteered. Similarly, individuals often must think about defining ways to maximally offer the greatest outcome from their influence.

In addition, to asking you to define a leadership legacy statement to direct your leadership behaviors with a horizon line beyond your companies monthly profits and loss statement, or your quarterly earnings report, I am asking you to think about your life’s work as sphere of influence. In essence, how large a shadow do you cast? Brady and Woodward in Launching a Leadership Revolution wrote that influence is effort times scope. While we can redouble our efforts to leverage our positive and lasting impact, we can also expand our scope of leadership influence by mentoring future leaders. Take one step beyond that we can exponentially increase our leadership legacy by mentoring leaders who we then challenge to mentor leaders themselves.

I’d love to hear and share your leadership legacy statements. So what will you want them to say about your leadership after you are gone and how will your increase your lasting leadership influence? I am listening…..

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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