Any Employee Can Leave a Lasting Leadership Legacy

by | Jun 3, 2014

legacy-of-leadershipWorld leaders to CEOs to winning coaches all leave legacies—a stamp they have left on the world or on their small corner of it. However, the desire and the ability to leave a lasting leadership legacy isn’t reserved solely for those with titles.

In fact, in his book, Leaders Without Titles, author Stephen Sampson recounts a time when his mentor said that “to influence without authority was the key to leadership.” These informal leaders also have the opportunity to leave an indelible mark.

A leadership legacy isn’t about titles; it’s about the impact one can make.

Leaving a Legacy from Any Position

Any employee who is motivated to change something for the better can leave a powerful legacy. Perhaps it is to improve a process or create a new one that is faster and more efficient and that benefits future employees. Maybe it’s to develop an idea for a new product or share an innovative, problem-solving technique. It could be a legacy based on kindness, fairness, generosity, and curiosity that becomes part and parcel of the company culture.

In a Chief Learning Officer magazine piece entitled, “The Benefits of Creating a Leadership Legacy,” Beverly Kaye and Betsy Jacobson write, “Everyone has this opportunity [to leave a legacy] based on his or her own experiences and insights. However, to do so requires a new consciousness and an intention to leave value.” It does not require a title but a willingness to share learning and demonstrate best practices.

When leaders think about their legacy, they consider these components:

  • What do I want to happen? What is my vision?
  • How will change occur? How will I start to make that vision a reality, and how will I lead people, informally or formally?
  • What strategies and tactics are best? What steps will I take?
  • How will I enroll others? How will I convince others to buy into my vision and goals?
  • How will we stay on track? How will we keep the faith? How will we keep on keeping on?

“Leaders without titles” can ask themselves the same questions in order to bring that intention to their work. Thinking about a legacy helps people gain a much different perspective on their jobs. Maybe they will think more globally or holistically; maybe they will see connections between their work and the organization as a whole. They will certainly start to think about how their colleagues will remember them and how they can make a positive impact.

When people think of the word “legacy,” they tend to attach a certain grandeur to it. This is why they associate legacies with presidents or Fortune 500 CEOs. However, the vision could be simply improving a single process or leaving behind a workflow journal or a binder full of best practices. We recognize how leaders rise and fall in the normal course of business, and this often happens in meetings. Good leaders promote and encourage these occurrences.

As Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451, “It doesn’t matter what you do … so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.” Anyone who takes the initiative to think about leadership, even if he or she will never have a leadership title, can leave a leadership legacy that matters.

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