I always will remember a profound question asked of me when preparing to take command of an Army battalion (like being president of an 800-person organization): “Jeff, what do you want your leadership legacy to be?”
I was a lieutenant colonel at the time, and had been in the Army for 18 years. My honest response was simply “I don’t know.”
Over the past 20-plus years, I have been refining the answer to that question.
Your legacy is defined by the impact you have on the lives of others after you are gone. It is how you will be remembered. We all are leaving legacies – there is no escaping it. How would you respond to that question?
However old or young, you have the opportunity to raise the bar on the legacy you are leaving. Whether you are in a new position in your business; a new parent or grandparent; a student or recent graduate; or perhaps you have had a setback in your life; it never is too late to refocus on what you can change – your legacy.
If you are interested in learning more about my framework, and how it might help you, read on!
The most important influences in my life were people who ultimately pursued five separate but related actions. These five actions provided the framework for me in my pursuit of creating a positive leadership legacy in my life.
• Character. Being a person of character is at the foundation of building trust with others. Character is who we are and what we stand for. It is composed of many things, but its foundation is values – those deep beliefs such as integrity, loyalty and respect. Values do not change overnight – they are forged in one’s heart and soul over time. They ultimately drive how we behave.
Character is the most admired trait I remember from my father. Dad was a career salesman, and I always will remember how respectful and kind he was to people – everyone loved him. When you think of those people who left a wonderful legacy for you, was not character the essence of the memory?
• Attitude. Your attitude can change everything you do and everyone you meet. No one enjoys hanging out with chronic complainers or naysayers. A positive attitude can be a force multiplier in daily interactions or long-term strategies. A positive attitude creates passion, enthusiasm and a call to action – it can change the outcomes. You have a choice in your attitude – make it positive!
• Vision. We all need a vision, or a plan, for our future. A saying attributed to the great Yogi Berra goes: “If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to end up someplace else.” A vision provides clear direction for your future.
I always will remember a
great mentoring session regarding vision when I was a young captain in the Army. A senior officer invited me into his office, pulled out a legal-size pad of paper, and drew a five-year plan for me. He highlighted what success looked like, the decision points and optional paths for me to be successful. I have used that same technique for decades.
Create your future by putting a mark on the wall of where you want to be one, two and five years from now. Establish a set of milestones to get you there, then celebrate each of their achievements as you progress along the way!
• Excellence. Championship teams and successful businesses do not drift to greatness – they commit themselves to excellence. Commitment means tireless pursuit of doing your absolute best, every day, all the time. Excellence matters in everything you do. If you don’t commit to excellence yourself and demand it from others, you will create a culture of mediocrity – not the legacy people need.
• Relationships. Building trusted relationships with others trumps everything else when it comes to leaving a positive leadership legacy in your world. Knowing your people; genuinely caring for them; reaching out to those in need; sacrificing and celebrating with them; and exercising humility all are important aspects enabling strong relationships. You will know you have achieved the goal when you can feel the spirit of cohesion permeating your heart and soul.
My intent was to provide a framework for establishing your approach to leaving a positive leadership legacy in your world. How would you assess your behavior in each of the five areas? An action plan should follow your assessment that enables you to grow where needed.
I assure you this model is not perfect by any means, but it helped me in the past and still does.
I wish you the best in your leadership journey.
(The writer is a leadership consultant and an author. His e-mail address is: email@example.com. His website is loralmountain.com.)