Good leadership always makes a difference; unfortunately, so does bad leadership. This leadership truth continues as we will be talking about the last of the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: The Law of Legacy.
“A leader's lasting value is measured by succession.” —John Maxwell
You Control Your Legacy
Legacy is what you leave behind; how you will be remembered. This is 100% in your control, and everyone can write the ending to their own life story. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind once you’ve moved on from your leadership position? For most people, legacy is all about what they have personally achieved: their successes, awards, and accomplishments; in other words, the things they leave behind. For leaders, these things are certainly part of their legacy, but their lasting value as a leader is in the people they leave behind.
Throughout this series, I have talked about the difference between a manager and a leader:
“A manager does things right; a leader does the right thing.” —John Maxwell
How many people do you know who take a bit of pride in the fact that their team cannot function at the same level of performance when they are not around? You hear things from them like, “I am going to have a lot of cleanup to do next week when I get back from vacation,” or “My team just doesn’t know what to do without my constant direction.” This is the mentality of an insecure manager. They need to hold onto their control and knowledge to make them indispensable. Guess what? Anyone is replaceable.
Contrast that to the person who takes pride in the knowledge that their team can perform autonomously with no drop in effectiveness. This type of person is a leader; one that is intentional in developing others to fully realize their potential, and in some cases to be in a position to take the reins. A leader understands that the best way to create value is in helping others improve their skills and knowledge.
Pass the Baton
Any track coach will tell you that the race is won or lost with the passing of the baton and not the running of the race. This handoff of responsibility is the only part of the race that is a team effort; the rest is all about the individual. The passing of the baton is analogous to succession in business—the handoff of responsibility from one person to another. Just as in the race, if the handoff is not smooth, the outcome will not be successful. In a business sense, if the succession transition has not been well planned and the “new blood” expertly groomed to ascend, it will also be unsuccessful. Because leaders work with people, including other leaders, they have the potential to influence beyond their own career (and lifetime). Therefore, all leaders should be concerned with succession and legacy.
Developing Your Legacy
How do you accomplish this? The following guide outlines the steps to develop your legacy, but they require intentional, ongoing effort.
1. Decide early what your legacy will be.
Consider your sense of purpose, strengths, opportunities, and whom you might be able to impact. Some people accept, rather than drive, their lives; instead, choose how you will live your life.
For example, it still amazes me how little time many leaders spend thinking about their legacy—what they will leave behind for the organization and the people they serve. Building a legacy is an intentional, continuous activity that must be done throughout a career. Make a list of the things that drive you and your legacy will quickly become clear.
2. Start living your legacy while you’re still in your leadership position.
Follow Laws #6 (leaders are trustworthy and have good character) and #13 (leaders lead by example). Be what you want to inspire in others.
For example, when you always make decisions based on truth and with integrity, you inspire others around you. People always respond favorably to those who live by their highest ideals. Character is what is left after charisma is gone. Keep aligning all your actions with the legacy you want.
3. Pick successors.
Legacy is about people, not things. An inanimate building named after you won’t be able to influence people.
For example, people can judge how good a person you are by your grandchildren. You’ve raised your kids using your values and how well they raise your grandchildren is a measure of how well you did with them.
4. Create a succession plan.
If you’re a good leader, and your successor is a good leader, that’s a good start, but there needs to be a handoff. Succession does not happen by chance, it must be diligently planned and executed.
For example, the owner of a small business, Nancy, is training her daughter, Morgan, to take over the company. Morgan has gradually taken over many of Nancy’s responsibilities while she is still the leader. This allows Morgan to observe, learn, and practice under Nancy’s mentorship.
Someone once asked John Maxwell why he wrote The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. I laughed out loud when he responded, “Because there are 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, not 19 and not 22. If there had been 22, I would have written The 22 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” I would fully concur; John has effectively outlined the true keys to becoming a great leader into these 21 laws. As we went through this leadership journey together in this series, I hope you have learned a few lessons you can apply immediately to improve your leadership skill set.
If you follow the guidelines in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, you will truly be surprised at the results. By intentionally focusing on enhancing your leadership skills, I promise the results will be epic. Good luck!
This column originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.