The notion of building a leadership legacy has always been a driving factor for business leaders and owners, who naturally strive to influence the way in which they will be remembered after they have gone.
Whether you’re a leader ready to retire, or a new manager itching to make your mark on your organisation; you are now writing history for your employees, but how will it read?
How you handle the defining moments in your leadership career will define the future of your career, your organisation and the opportunities that are available to your workforce in years to come.
The big problem is, there are a lot of leaders and managers out there who still think that authority, control and domination will secure their place as a strong and influential leader in the hearts and minds of their people and stakeholder, when in actual fact, it’s quite the opposite.
To lead your people, walk behind them– Lao Tse
Quality of leadership decisions
A leader in any working environment has to make tough decisions and take uncomfortable, unpopular actions on a regular basis.
The good thing is, it is precisely the quality of these decisions and the depth and trust of the employee-leadership relationship that will ultimately determine your leadership legacy. People remember remarkable leaders and managers, and customers remember them too.
There is no doubt that every action undertaken by you as a leader, presents an opportunity to impact on the imprint that you leave on your organisation, and equally, it is never too late to build stronger ties with your people and develop greater trust and respect from shareholders.
Inspire and ignite your people
Of course, every leader leaves some kind of a legacy, when they move away from the role, but not every leadership legacy is a positive one.
A leader that doesn’t inspire and ignite employees and managers all along the chain with his or her vision is unlikely to leave a deep imprint on the organisation.
The same goes for a business leader or owner who causes disharmony or friction in the workplace, or makes insensitive changes and decisions that have to be rectified at a later date.
That’s just a recipe for leadership disaster!
Whilst the demands on a leadership team will sometimes result in difficult and unpopular decisions having to be made, it is possible to make these decisions without angering your employees and rocking the boat unnecessarily.
One way to keep employees on board, even when making tough decisions, is to keep yourself on their wavelength and to communicate the issues with authenticity and transparency throughout every level of your organisation, as a human, and not an untouchable elite.
In this way your employees will be able to see the bigger picture more easily and develop an understanding of the challenges of the leadership team, too – even if they don’t fully grasp it all.
They will certainly accept difficult circumstances more readily, if they feel involved and engaged in the decision making process.
Leadership attributes you’ll need
There are a few important behaviours and attitudes that you as a leader should be looking to cultivate and express to your employees and stakeholders, which all help to create a culture of trust and respect, and nurture a more genuine and congruous bond between employees and managers.
These behaviours, when cultivated properly, will ensure that you make a stronger, more lasting mark on your organisation, your industry and your employees:
For me high levels of clarity are particularly important within the leadership level of any organisation, and by making sure that you are clear and authentic in your approach to your people, you’ll show your willingness to reveal your true character.
Maybe humility should be on the list, too? Managers and leaders that make decisions from behind desks or closed doors with no reasoning or logic will struggle to install an air of confidence in their employees.
That includes those who have an “Open-Door Policy”, but who seldom leave their air-con office to hit the shop floor to talk to their people.
A manager certainly does not have to be at the “coal-face” of business all the time, but connecting and communicating with employees on a daily basis will do wonders for your leadership reputation, as well as strengthening your relationship with your workforce.
Decisions that leaders make should be validated (wherever possible) by talking and communicating with those who will be most affected by the decisions, and by making the reasoning behind the decision fully understandable to employees.
They may not like the outcome, but they’ll respect you for being honest and involving them.
Consistency at the top is key to leaving a leadership legacy
Consistency is another factor in the way that leadership legacies are created.
If a manager flip-flops when making important decisions, or instructs employees to work in one direction for a period of time and then reverses this decision, they will almost certainly come across as weak and incompetent.
When this happens, trust plummets and teamwork goes out of the window. The reason consistency is so crucial is related to the fact that leaders should have a long-term plan for the business and the work being carried out.
A line manager or leader that changes path frequently will struggle to convince employees to believe that there is any sort of long-term planning being made.
Once your employees know you only plan for the short-term, you’ll find that they start planning their career with your company in the short term too, and look for other opportunities.
Smart leaders don’t play the blame game
There is also nothing wrong with realising mistakes have been made, what’s most important is how you communicate, handle and rectify these mistakes. The so-called blame culture is a game which effective leaders and managers simply do not play.
If for nothing else, consistency is crucial with respect to employee development. If there is no set plan then there will be no natural path for employees to take in their career, which means that they may see their business future outside of the company.
As far as I can tell, leaving a leadership legacy rests on knowing how to inspire and ignite your people and teams, and how to develop mutual respect and trust from your employees for you and your judgement as a leader.
You don’t need to be liked to lead, but having the respect of the people you work alongside is vital and at the core of a strong legacy. Think about Steve Jobs legacy, and you’ll understand what I mean.
So come on. Define yourself as a great leader. Do something special.
After all, history doesn’t record mediocrity.
Do you want to be remembered by the way you ran meetings, or by the way you inspired others to achieve and grow?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!