FANNING: How to leave a legacy

By Ben Fanning, contributing editor  |  Most leaders don’t leave a legacy. They are never mentioned again when they leave an organization, especially if they die or get fired.

Then there are the ones who leave a negative legacy. You know, the leader who had the going away party but wasn’t invited.

Fanning

However, some have powerful legacies that live on for years, continuing to make positive impacts in staff meetings, presentations, and even at the water cooler.  I’ll give you a few things you can do to make sure you’re leaving a positive legacy–but first, it’s worth exploring what that really means.

The day $3,000 made me cry

We’d exceeded every metric for the year, but I was angry.  My slotted position in the company wasn’t a “bonus” job. My manager got the bonus; I didn’t.

As I approached my desk that morning, there was an envelope from my manager with a check for $3,000. That was my first bonus ever – written from his personal bank account. In the memo, it said, “You deserve it.”

I cried.

After he was fired a year later (which normally means you aren’t supposed to talk about the person anymore), something strange happened.  People kept talking about him: how he treated his team, how he saved Black Friday, and even the jokes he made to lighten the mood when times got tough. His legend grew, and he continued to make an impact on his team and the entire organization beyond his departure.

Last week, I talked to someone from our old team. We’re still talking about what we learned from him 13 years ago.

5 ways to leave a positive legacy

You may not be remembered very long for your results as a leader, because next year there’s always another goal to reach–whether you’re there or not.  We live and work in a “what have you done for me lately” world. It’s a powerful reminder: Leaving a legacy lives through people, not results.  Your positive impact will ripple far beyond your tenure when you connect, develop, and inspire. Caring about this is a call to a higher mission as a leader.

After you’ve recognized that leaving a positive legacy is important, you can start or restart by trying one of these five strategies:

  1. Prioritize people over results. Three years from now, your team won’t remember whether you hit all of your goals. They’ll remember how you made them feel on the way there.

Start paying attention to any habits you’ve built when speaking to your team. Do you always focus on result? Try starting with a “How are you doing?” instead.

  1. Invest your time and money. When you invest in your team’s professional growth, your team will be able to have more success and make an even bigger impact in the future. It will carry your legacy even further. Ask your team to propose areas they would like to develop. See where that can become a win-win-win for them, you, and the company.
  2. Connect in person. In a high-paced, virtual world, it’s easy to slip into leadership by email. Sometimes, this is a necessity–but your legacy won’t be sustained by a barrage of emails.

Make the effort to connect over the phone as well as in person. Your positive legacy can only be perpetuated by positive human interaction.

  1. Control less; empower more. This may scare you. What if you empower your team to take the initiative and make decisions, and they end up breaking everything you’ve built?

Teach your team to make intelligent gambles and improvise along the way. Work becomes more enjoyable, and they’ll become more experienced in independent work–which they may need when you’re gone and they have a new leader.

  1. Model behavior you want to last. Your team learns more from watching you than listening to you. Invite them to attend meetings and calls so they can observe you in action with senior leaders or customers. Make sure you’re modeling the behaviors you’d like to see them embody.

Here’s to your enduring legacy!

P.S: Download my free report to help you get more from workforce, 7 Strategies for Senior Leaders To Get the Most Out of Their Workforce

  1. Have a comment?  Send to:  editor@charlestoncurrents.com.
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3 Comments

  1. George Graf says:

    In today’s always connected society, I see less and less empowerment by bosses. Back in the day I used to go on vacations or business trips and rotated my branch chiefs into my position while I was gone and trust them to make all decisions except some personnel matters. They learned to captain the ship. Nowadays, when bosses are gone for longer than a day, it seems they are called on their mobile phones to run the office remotely. This gives the bosses less time to relax on vacation or focus on the business meeting and reduces the amount of empowerment given to those back at the office.

  2. Great point, George.

  3. Joe Mendelsohn says:

    Good article,but what does branding a calf ,have to do with it?

    I assume that is what is in the picture.