Don’t define leadership for me. Tell me what legacy you want to leave behind, and I’ll know.
What am I leaving behind as leader? What am I building? What will be left when I am not here? What will my legacy look like? These questions and similar ones (all a variant) are important questions that leaders should ask themselves. There are all sorts of types of leaders, from the ones who have an answer to these questions to the others, at the other end of the spectrum, who not only don’t have an answer, but they have never asked themselves the questions.
There are not good or bad answers. If you want to leave behind a company that has made the Top List of Something, great. Perhaps a new product, or a service. Perhaps a transformation in your industry.
If you want to define your legacy by a number ( market share, top line, profitability, earnings per share, number 1 in ‘X’) fine as well. I met once a new CEO who spent the entire introductory dinner with his new Leadership Team explaining how he went from a 3.5 market share, somewhere in the planet, to a 9.5% market share when he left. You could have said that the audience was not overwhelmed with joy. He defined his leadership style in one dinner. But, hey, he is still at the helm in his company, and making tons of money!
The legacy question must be asked, that is the point. Some leaders feel a bit uncomfortable; others are puzzled and concede that they have never thought about it in a specific way. I always ask ‘the question’ to anybody in a leadership position. The question is always personal, so I expect a personal answer.
I am interested in the discipline of the questioning, perhaps privately first, then more collective at leadership team level… ‘The legacy’ is one of the Seven Faces in my model of leadership. It’s always a tricky one. Well, not too much if taken superficially, but a complex one if one is serious about it.
I sometimes get stuck in the conversation with leaders about this topic. This is often the point when the client starts speaking Corporate Tribe Dialect and involving shareholder value. At this point, a re-framing of the question is due in order to get to the bottom of a good answer… My favourite alternative question is: ‘What will you tell your children that you’ve done?’