What’s Your Leadership Legacy Looking Like?

April 9, 2022

What’s Your Leadership Legacy Looking Like?

Looking back at leaders I’ve worked with — (not  surprisingly)  the stand outs share a lot in common. Three people ­­­­stand out and share most if not all of the same qualities. Three of the best leaders immediately come to mind.  Over a career spans of 35 years  I still  remember what made them great leaders. In a nutshell they could be described as “growth oriented,” or “growth-minded.” They were empathetic, respectful, trusting, confident, fair, non-judgmental, patient, realistic, consistently used good judgement, kind, understanding and were very technically proficient.

We all know leaders who can be described as the polar opposite of those described above–you know the ones who are not very popular. They have fixed ideas about how things need to be run and maintained. In this kind of leadership style, they make the rules, the team follows them and that’s it. It’s an Autocratic agenda. End of discussion.

In this limited view, the leader knows best and works to maintain the status quo. Feedback may be asked for, but it’s not seriously considered. The “inspector general” mentality usually categorizes people as either being superior or inferior. The staff members are treated accordingly which creates another set of problems. This leadership style misses out on the real skills and abilities everyone brings to the table – the essence of creativity and invention. Growth minded leaders get this.

Rigidity does not work with individuals or with any organization over an extended period of time.  Things constantly change making flexibility crucial. Experience bears this out. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Issues must continue to be met and dealt with in innovative ways. Life and the challenges it brings are just too complicated for a one size fits all approach.

Growth minded leaders are not afraid to look at their mistakes. They seek and apply feedback from team members. All are encouraged to keep growing, innovating, and contributing their best. New strategies continually need to be implemented and adjusted according to ever changing data, information, conditions, individual needs, and differences.

The creative and dynamic methods which growth minded leaders employ; create a thriving environment where all contributions are welcome. It’s reminiscent of how a fully functioning Firehouse operates. Everyone pitches in to get the job done – even the Chief if necessary. Inside and outside of the firehouse.  Whether it’s fighting the fire or resolving a maintenance issue; it’s everyone’s job. The Chief will jump in to help if need be. The chain of command is practiced and respected. All are valued to contribute new ideas and are encouraged to play their part. Success is a natural result of maintaining such a dynamic and positive environment. And when things go wrong, as they sometimes will, all team members willingly do their part to help. It lightens the load, and everyone feels part of the success. It’s a win -win situation. One of the biggest moving pieces of a growth minded leader is the ability to reinvent things with team members collaboration.    

Growth minded leaders are astute enough to know they can’t “fix” people.  Their approach is not to fix, but to “fit” people.  They know it’s always best to try to get the right folks in the right “seat on the bus”.  No sense in trying to change someone’s fundamental core who is not willing to change.  These leaders know the better approach is to tap the best skills each person has and use them to everyone’s full advantage.  Help them shine the brightest by placing them in the role(s) where they get to do what they do best. 

We have all thought of the best leaders we have had in our careers; as well as the less-than-ideal leaders we have worked “under”.  Both types  have been great teachers for us to become better leaders.  Our human nature is to try and emulate what we know worked best and avoid the practices which were not well received.

There is a wide spectrum of leadership styles.  Scholars and analysts have given clear definitions to a multitude of leadership styles.  Some styles rise in “popularity” while other styles seem to have become less ideal than they once were.  No matter what style is yours —  you are building your leadership legacy. 

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles

See while it’s about what we do, it’s also about how we do it.  Your leadership legacy is not about the “items” you might pass onto others, but more importantly it’s about the lasting impressions you leave them with.   These lasting impressions are not (generally) passed to others by the “big events” of your leadership life, but more so by the day-to-day behaviors and traits you display.  Your story is told by your actions, not your words.  Consistency is the key.

The purpose of this article is to get each of us to reflect on what type of leadership legacy we are creating.  When asked, will someday someone say “he/she” is one of the three best leaders I ever knew?  What are you going to do today to make that top three list in someone’s future? 

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