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What Kind of Leadership Legacy Are You Leaving?

We’ve seen some pretty high-visibility leaders either leave or face the possibility of being removed from their positions recently. It has undoubtedly been a stressful time for them.

When a senior leader departs, members of the organization feel stress too. The stress they go through, and the impact on organizational performance, are directly tied to the manner in which that senior leader led.

I once served in an organization with a leader who used a commanding leadership style all of the time. This person drove the organization hard and insisted things were done ‘his way’ with little deviation. While the organization continuously improved under this leadership style, the wheels started coming off the cart once he left. Suddenly, subordinate leaders were stunned to find themselves responsible for making decisions that had been previously made for them by this senior leader. The staff was similarly rusty because they hadn’t been responsible for collaborating to build fact-based recommendations for the senior leader’s decisions. The organization had simply atrophied while one person was calling all the shots. The good news is that some very capable leaders and a very committed staff rallied to put the wheels back underneath the cart. But how much did the organization’s performance suffer while this re-learning took place?

This tale serves as a reminder to constantly assess the style you employ as an organizational leader. While certainly ‘the buck stops’ with you, your true leadership legacy will be reflected in the organization’s continued performance after you’re gone. What can you do to make sure you’re leaving a leadership legacy you can be proud of? There are many things, but some key items to reflect on are:

  1. Succession Planning: Have you identified and started grooming your successor(s) from day one?
  2. The ‘Why’: Is there a general consensus or buy-in from the team as to what the organization seeks to accomplish?
  3. Strategic Imperatives: Are the organization’s mission, vision and values clearly articulated and understood?
  4. Transparency: Is there an environment of transparency and good governance? Are the ways in which spending, staffing and other key decisions are made clear to everyone, or is there a perception that these decisions are made in ‘smoke-filled rooms’ with only a chosen few allowed to know why and how they were made?
  5. Processes: Are the organization’s processes clearly defined and understood? Does the organization ‘get ready’ for compliance audits and inspections, or are its business practices known by all and implemented in a way that ensures things are being done right all of the time?
  6. Empowerment: Are subordinate leaders and staffs empowered to make decisions at the lowest levels and innovate in the ways in which they operate based on the senior leader’s intent and the organization’s mission and vision?

There are undoubtedly many more questions you might ask, but it all boils down to this: Do you want your leadership legacy to be that the organization you led couldn’t live without you and crumbled when you left, or do you want it to be that it didn’t skip a beat and kept moving forward after you were gone?

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