Take yourself back to when you first started your current role. Not day one, or even at the end of month one, but when you first started to make suggestions for change. I’d bet my bottom dollar that this was when your new colleagues started talking about your predecessor. “Oh, we don’t do it like that” or “Bob was of a similar mindset before he left – let’s do it.”
Negative or positive, every leader leaves a legacy; characterised by what people say about them once they leave the business. The decisions you make today, will influence the future of your organisation and your role as a sustainable leader; long after you’ve moved on. As a people leader, some of these choices – such as those relating to policy and procedures like terminating contracts – could have knock-on effects much further down the line; fundamentally altering the culture of your business.
Some leaders may think – “so what, I’ve will have left before my legacy kicks in”. Or “it won’t be as good once I’ve left so why bother". But I strongly urge a rethink of this mentality. It’s not a helpful way to think as a leader, to believe your way is the only way. And it’s certainly not wise to keep your knowledge close to your chest. Because, for modern day business to succeed, we all must adopt a ‘pay it forward’ attitude – sharing our wisdom, experiences and bringing people on the journey with us. This, for me, is the crux of a legacy.
Pay it forward
Paying it forward is less about ‘you’ and much more about others. You’re never bigger than the brand you work for and I think, in leadership, it’s easy to think you are. But the heart of people leadership is, and has to always be, about those around you. And so, when considering your career path and imagining your legacy, you should think about how you can collaborate, how you can share your knowledge and experience with others. How you can enhance both your career and the careers of others, today.
Purpose, that word which I’ve used so often in these columns, must again be paramount here. You, as a leader, are in the position to lay foundations for the future of the business. Therefore, the long-term sustainability of the things you do should be an absolute non-negotiable when you are building your strategies and frameworks. What you are creating must be of benefit for your people, and your business, beyond your time there.
When it comes to legacy, the things you put in place will all be tested. When you’re in the role, it’s easy to achieve success – you can manage and monitor and adapt to ensure goals are met. But it’s when you’ve left that your true legacy will be felt.
I remember a previous role in which I had been for eight years. When I left, four people took over the role within five years and it made me wonder… did I not set this up for success?
Perhaps I didn’t; perhaps I did. Maybe the choices I made during my tenure may not have been right for the long-term. Or, perhaps, the company just hired the wrong people to fill that role. I’m not sure, in this case, I will ever really know. But one thing I am aware of is, since that time, I’ve made sure that I focus on creating a positive legacy wherever I go. A legacy where I’ve paid it forward; supporting my people; nurturing them, developing them, helping them achieving their dreams and aspirations. But I’ve also ensured that I’ve left a sustainable operation behind.
Because, whether it takes your employer a day or a year to replace you, if the operation doesn’t fall apart in that time then, for me, you’ve left a great legacy. A legacy to be proud of.
One final thought… I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my columns on the art of people leadership. If you take away just one thing from them, I hope that it will be that the fundamental value of the new breed of people leader is an engaged workforce. If you achieve this during your career, in line with your framework, and empower other through your legacy, continue this work and pay it forward, we will have happy, productive, motivated people – now and in the future – who will deliver over and above what is expected of them, every day.