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How to Think About Your Leadership Legacy

September 30, 2013 4 Comments

Legacy Tree ShadowYou’ve likely heard the phrase “leadership legacy” at some point.  It sounds big, ominous, and scary.

It’s not.

There’s a simple formula for thinking about your personal leadership legacy.  It only has four variables in it.  It’s not some big quadratic equation with derivatives, exponents, or any of that complicated stuff.

Before I get to the formula, I should probably share some thoughts on why you should care about having a leadership legacy.  Most of us aspire to leave our mark on the world in some way.  Often we do so through our kids but it’s a little harder to conceptualize how we do it through our professional lives.  It’s not very satisfying to think about people saying of us “Yeah, he worked here for 20 years.  Showed up on time.  Got his work done.”  And that’s it.  It’s much more exciting to think about how we’ve inspired others and improved things around us beyond just punching the clock.  We want to be remembered for something.  We want to improve the world beyond our immediate span of control.  That’s why proactively thinking about your legacy is so critical.

And a legacy takes time to build so the sooner you define it and think about it, the higher your odds of successfully doing so.  Laying it out will give your work direction.  It can serve to inspire you to achieve more than you ever thought possible.  It can fill that need to leave something behind once you leave a company or retire.

So if you’re interested in building your leadership legacy, all you have to do is think about four things:

Legacy = Impact x Breadth x Duration x Multiplicity

Impact: Impact is how much you improve things.  For example, if the promotion rate in your organization was an anemic 10% when you arrived and the changes you make while in role improve that to 25%, that’s impact.  Impact comes in many forms but realize it’s leadership impact.  That boils down to assessing how well you’ve developed your team.  If you’re improving their skills and capabilities, that’s leadership impact.  If you’re just driving sales improvement by being a taskmaster, that’s not leadership impact.  To assess your impact, just ask how much have the members of my team improved as a direct result of actions I’ve taken (coaching, developing, creating stretch roles, promotions, etc.).

Breadth: Breadth measures how far your reach is.  If you’re developing 20 people, it’s a broader scope than developing just 2.  Don’t get locked into thinking only about your direct reporting organization.  If you’re mentoring folks, coaching people, training people, leading project teams, etc. you can include that reach in the breadth component of the equation.  If you’re putting in place development programs and practices, you can extend your breadth beyond those you lead directly too (e.g., contributing to emerging leader programs, onboarding, etc.).

Duration: Duration looks at how long into the future will the capabilities you’ve built carry on.  If you help your people get better at giving feedback to members of their team, that has a certain duration – when that person you’ve develops retires, your duration is over.  If on the other hand you build a corporate university, create programs and frameworks that the company adopts as long term practices, define a leadership culture for your company, etc. then those things will endure beyond your tenure there (and beyond the tenure of your team members).  Ask yourself what you’re working on that will contribute to the long-term development of the leaders in the organization (or even beyond your organization if you’re up for influencing via books, blogs, industry leadership, etc.).

Multiplicity: Multiplicity is a tricky concept.  Essentially it’s about how much can those who follow you build upon the things you’ve created.  For example, Newton’s thoughts on gravity created a foundation for thousands of insights beyond his initial theories.  That’s multiplicity.  So for example, if you put in place programs to identify and promote high potential talent, will future leaders be able to take your programs and export them to other parts of the company?  If you build a small business unit “university” can it serve as a foundation for how your company builds a corporate university?

The leadership legacy equation is pretty simple and straightforward.  I acknowledge the components of it are somewhat complex and require a lot of thought on your part for how you’re going to drive each of those variables.  But if you start now and think about where you spend your time, energy, and talents, you’ll be able to identify where you can have an impact, how you can broaden that impact, how you can make that impact last, and how that impact can be a platform for others to build upon.  Perhaps the best place to start is to define who you are and who you want to be as a leader (and for the best resource I know on how to do that, GO HERE).  If you can do all of those things, the likelihood of you building something meaningful and enduring is pretty high.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

4 Responses to “How to Think About Your Leadership Legacy”

    • Pat Sullivan says:

      I may be all wrong here but I believe the great leaders I have known and worked with never think about their legacy. They simply roll up their sleeves, do the best they can everyday, and truly care about the welfare of the people in their charge. They are so busy doing these things they don’t have time to think about their legacy. Others who recognize their value may think about their legacy, but they don’t.

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