Leaving a Leadership Legacy

Whenever I consider offering customer experience consulting services for a prospective business client, I interview senior leadership and ask a lot of questions that get at motivation and their perceived purpose for the potential partnership.

Early in my career I was so excited “to be considered for work” that I didn’t understand the importance of due diligence when connecting your brand with someone else’s business.  In the context of my “goodness of fit” interview, I now ask questions like:

How do you wish to significantly impact the life of your people and customers?

How do you define corporate culture?

How do you see culture playing into your business objectives?

How will you define employee engagement and customer experience success?

And most importantly….

What do you want your legacy to be?

Long before I asked these questions of the CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) Steve Cannon, he had publically declared that his leadership legacy would be the transformation of MBUSA from a product-centric culture to one that was customer-obsessed.

Given that Mercedes-Benz USA is well down the road on this transformation journey (the details of which can be found in my recently released book Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way) I thought I would share some insights on how to craft and leave your desired legacy…

Be Audacious/Dream Big — Small dreams cast small shadows.  Spend time thinking about what you want to accomplish at the end of your career –  for what you will want to be known. Leadership guru John Maxwell has said that people will remember our leadership impact “in one sentence, so write it now.”  If you don’t design your career to deliver your desired impact, you will likely wobble about and leave an unintended legacy instead.

Declare It –  Once you have your leadership destination in mind, make it public.  You can publish it to a close confident, a circle of trusted leaders, or in Steve Cannon’s case, in Automotive News and every stakeholder forum where it was relevant.  Often people don’t make public declarations because they don’t want to be held accountable.  The very fact that we share a commitment out loud increases the probability that we will act in accord with that declaration even when no one is looking.

Target and Track –  Since you will have spent the time considering your desired leadership legacy and will tell someone else you want to achieve that outcome, why not set short, mid-, and long term targets?  How else will you know if you are making the progress you desire?  For Steve Cannon, his proof would come through his observation of his team, customer feedback, internal metrics, and outside agencies who evaluated and benchmarked the Mercedes-Benz USA customer experience against competitors.

Partner – Develop at least one accountability partner and schedule times to assess progress with them.  Think of weight loss and how Weight Watchers schedules weekly weigh-in’s as a regular accountability opportunity.  If weight loss is not occurring, a course correction can occur.  If success is being achieved, those victories can be celebrated.

Be Coachable – Since you will have a partner, listen to that person as he or she helps you maximize your impact.  Actively seek the guidance of others who are experts in the area you wish to master.  For example, I sought coaching from the founder of the modern day Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company when aspects of my desired legacy required an elevated sense of what it takes to deliver exacting customer service excellence.

Mentor  In the Bible, gospel writer Luke shares, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”  If one is given the opportunity to lead others, it seems reasonable that such an opportunity should come with the requirement to give back or pay it forward.  When it comes to a lasting legacy, it can only be achieved by developing customer-focused leaders who in turn develop customer-focused leaders.

I have been privileged to work with so many servant leaders who make substantial and lasting impact on their companies, people, and customers.  Steve Cannon and his team at Mercedes-Benz USA are great examples of the elements outlined above.

To learn more, I hope you will check out Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.

In any case, I trust your thoughtful efforts will afford a legacy in keeping with Thoreau’s insightful observation…

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams

and endeavors to live the life he has imagined,

he will meet with success unimagined in common hours.

Smoke over black background

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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