Leaving a Legacy that Matters


Just about any leader can make an organization look good for a moment -- by launching a flashy new program or product, drawing crowds to a big event, or slashing the budget to boost the bottom line. But leaders that leave a legacy take a different approach. They lead with tomorrow as well as today in mind. When all is said and done, your ability as a leader will be judged by how well your people, and your organization, do after you are gone. Your lasting value will be measured by succession.

To create a legacy, you need to be strategic and intentional. The following guidelines can help you get started:

  1. Decide ahead of time what you will be willing to give up. Being a leader has a price; being a leader who leaves a legacy has an even greater price. When you work to create legacy, your life is no longer your own. That's why it's so important to know what you are willing to give up so that others can go up.  What are you will to give up? How much of your time? How much of your money? How many opportunities will you forgo? How many of your dreams are you willing to set aside to ensure that one or maybe two survive in the lives of others?

  2. Take the initiative to start the process. If you want to create a legacy, you have to initiate the process -- and there will be times when you have to fight for it. Many of your people will have different agendas and motivations. There will be external forces and internal barriers to achieving some of your goals and objectives. Great leaders are proactive in planning their succession. They are strategic in planning for the future and are not afraid to take on the challenges that surface around preparing the organization for the transition.

  3. Know your goals with each leader on your team. The process of creating a legacy relies primarily on people. It requires the selection of the right people and the right development process for each individual. You have to carefully choose your legacy carriers. Who are the members of your team that live out the values and beliefs of the organization in all that they do? Who are the strongest players on the team? Who have the tenacity and stamina to take the business to its next level? Put together development plans for your key leaders so they have a path to succeed. Being thoughtful about how you are building peoples' capabilities will ultimately determine how the organization will thrive when you're gone.

  4. Prepare to pass the baton well. Once you have prepared your people, you need to prepare for the transition. There's a real art to preparing a successor, and it doesn't always go smoothly. You have to give yourself enough time to plan effectively. Our research suggests that 12-18 months is the right time frame. This enables you to work side-by-side with your successor to transfer knowledge, information, and power effectively. As you prepare to hand off to a successor, do everything you can to make for a seamless transition. And even then, plan to offer additional assistance without getting in the way.

When working on CEO Succession, I will typically take my clients through a simple exercise to begin the process of mapping out their legacy plans. The I.D.E.A. exercise has the leader focus on the following components:

  1. Instruction: Provide the vision for the organization and get people aligned on the top priorities. What's the organization's 3-5 strategic plan? What products and services do you want to provide to your customers in the future? Where do you, and your team, see the market and external landscape shifting? What technologies and innovations will play a role in the next few years?

  2. Demonstration: You have to walk the talk when it comes to legacy. If you want people to follow your lead, model the right behaviors for them. It boils down to three ideas: a) come and see me -- invite people to observe; b) come and follow me -- ask for a great level of commitment; and c) come and be with me -- encourage your leaders to partner and promote teamwork.

  3. Experience: Take the journey together. Work side-by-side with your people to make the vision for the business a reality. Give people opportunities to learn, develop, and grow. Do things as team. Legacy is about the influence and impact you have on others. You can only do this by doing things together.

  4. Assessment: Consistently take time to evaluate peoples' progress. This is important as it helps people get a deep understanding of their strengths and leadership gaps. It's just as important to get strong development plans in place to help people grow. Providing feedback and coaching along the way makes it all the more impactful.

If you want to leave a legacy, you must look to people to carry it out for you. Find the right people, and use the right preparation process for each of them. Only as you pour yourself into them will they be able to pour out themselves for others. No one can give what they do not have.

Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is the Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a boutique consulting firm focusing on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

For more information about this or other leadership topics, visit our website at www.bandelliandassociates.com.