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:
- Identity and values
You must know and be highly connected with who you are and what you represent as an individual and a leader. What values and beliefs influence your leadership, behaviour, and 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 constantly searched, until he discovered his identity and value system. As was captured by Walter Isaacson in Jobs’ biography, he seemed to be in a constant treasure hunt for personal identity, which 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.
Personally, I love productivity, honesty and dedication and have demonstrated those values throughout my career.
- Guiding foundational principles
Once you have solidified your identity and 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 1980s 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 its particular industry, or else it should quit the industry. Other CEOs later adopted this approach and mindset across corporate America. I understand this as the principle of FOCUS.
- Courage and risk-taking
As a leader, you must trust your gut and be courageous enough to take calculated risks. Sometimes, 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 searching for 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 80s due to 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.” That is a principle embedded in far-sightedness and resilience.
- 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 serve others better 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 organisation I was serving, I felt a genuine responsibility to reciprocate the value they added to my leadership success. This meant taking the time to understand them and working towards helping them accomplish their career goals. As their mentor and/or sponsor, I made sure to give them the additional time and guidance they needed to prepare them for the next phase of their careers.
- Responsibility and accountability
Legacy building is about being mindful of the opportunity and the responsibility you have to serve your advancement by serving others. Only you can set the tone and define the performance standards you expect from others. As such, you must be incredibly self-disciplined to hold yourself accountable to deliver to those standards every step of the way consistently.
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 you must also hold yourself accountable to build upon those traditions to further strengthen the culture, human capital and brand of the organisation 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 that 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 to evolve the newspaper to the modern era.
Leaders who feel stuck in their careers care more about recognition than respect. Richard Branson, the 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 realised, the lens 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.
Legacy-driven leadership is a powerful force that creates a lasting impact. It involves leaders committed to leaving something of value long after they are gone. Such leaders are purpose-driven and inspire others to work towards a shared goal. Legacy-driven leadership is essential in creating a better future, ensuring we build lasting institutions and organisations that can stand the test of time.
Prof. Lere Baale is dean, Business School Netherlands International, Nigeria