By David Casullo, President and Author, Leading the High-Energy Culture (McGraw Hill)
If you’re like most leaders, you’ve never been one to rest on your laurels—even though you’ve piled up a long list of professional accomplishments. Instead, you’re probably still thinking about what the future holds for you and the organization.
What’s next? What remains undone? What could be better? And—most intriguing of all—what will your legacy be as a leader?
How will you and the company you led be remembered? That’s an evocative question, as it conjures up the unknowable future. The question and answer are also deeply personal. Yet it’s also a question you need to learn to love, as it’s worth dwelling on throughout your tenure in the top spot.
Bearing that in mind, here are five steps toward creating a great leadership legacy.
1) Master how to communicate in ways that maintain focus, unify teams, and inspire action.
If you’ve risen to become the senior leader of your organization, you’re undoubtedly a strong strategic thinker with a great track record when it comes to performance. At this level, though, some questions may remain: Are you a compelling storyteller who can move hearts and minds to align people around your vision? Do you have an energizing Big Idea that will galvanize action? Do you have communication protocols in place to ensure that your powerful messages reach beyond your senior leaders and provoke commitment and action—even among those who are far removed from your inner circle?
Never underrate the power of a story or an exciting Big Idea. As Jack Welch implied, talking about shareholder value is not going to quicken anyone’s pulse. People need to hear and feel your passion about your industry and the company’s future. Sharing personal and professional stories helps your employees connect with you and understand the values and behaviors that are near and dear to you.
2) Focus first on your peak performers and diligent disciples.
Leaders often spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the bottom 20% of their employees—those workers who may never prove to be both able and willing to do a great job. Meanwhile, these leaders also devote minimal attention to their top 20% of employees—the peak performers who are making the greatest contributions to the company’s success. You’re missing an opportunity by failing to recognize that these diligent disciples are ready, willing, and able to be energized. So instead of trying to save the lost causes, focus on saving the saved! Stay in close contact with your peak performers and turn them into messengers who can share and amplify your big ideas as they find their way through the organization.
3) Load the deck in your favor by developing the talent that will be able to convert your vision and strategy into results.
Your ability to create a great leadership legacy will be limited if you are unable to develop a team of leaders who can translate your vision into innovations, business opportunities, revenues, and market share.
4) Take active steps to maintain a vigilant focus on your leadership legacy.
All too often, a leadership legacy is a great idea that gets lost in the day-to-day grind of meetings, reports, and emails. Don’t let that happen to you. There are many steps you can take to ensure that you’re vigilantly monitoring your legacy:
• Write a weekly email to your whole organization, sharing stories about experiences—yours as well as your employees—that connect directly to the legacy you want to establish.
• Schedule periodic town-hall meetings in which teams have the opportunities to share their ideas about how your organization could build a stronger legacy around a specific value, such as the customer experience.
• Take active steps to attract, develop, mentor, and reward based on the values implicit in your desired leadership legacy.
• Conduct anonymous communications surveys to confirm whether all parties have really embraced one of your “legacy values.”
5) Make crisis readiness a scheduled priority on your calendar.
Even if it’s just once or twice a year, it’s worthwhile to build your leadership’s team muscle when it comes to being ready to deal with crises. This might include investing in media training, for example, or using a tool such as force field analysis to break down a complex situation and figure out what to do about it. The idea would be to simulate some plausible event and then devise a series of action steps that would be taken in response. This is a proactive step that can preserve a legacy when it’s very much at risk.