A box I had been waiting for arrived at Strategies. It contained a hundred copies of the November/December issue of Salon Today magazine. And there I was – on the cover of each and every issue. It was great to finally see which photo the editors selected for the cover. I was delighted with the choice and the layout. I’ve never been on the cover of a magazine or the focus of a feature article. Gazing at this pile of magazines on the conference room table created a strange mixture of pride, accomplishment and a deep sense of humbleness as 40+ years of hard work flashed through my mind. Through an array of emotions, one word kept surfacing – “legacy.”
As a leader, your focus is on growing your company. Your time is consumed with driving revenues, managing costs, building your brand, solving problems, addressing the ever-present employee issues and trying to make every customer a raving fan. You take pride in your good decisions and you usually beat yourself up over bad ones. You still feel that special glow inside when you see employees reaching their full potential. You still agonize over employees who believe that “average” is good enough. In many ways, you are omnipresent in your company, in your knowledge, influence, passion and determination.
Your company may act as a reflection of who you are - but you are not your company. Your company’s legacy may be intertwined with your legacy, but your personal legacy is yours alone. It spans many years, numerous jobs and accomplishments. Because your legacy evolves over time, it is essential that you manage that evolution just as you lead and oversee the growth and direction of your company.
Here are my no-compromise thoughts on how to manage your personal legacy:
- Different timelines: You and your company are on different timelines. Not to get morbid here, but your company can and should outlive you. That’s why I keep pounding away that you are not your company. If you control every microscopic aspect of your company – you are your company. The true magic and power of leadership begins when the leader prepares and empowers others to take control. The brightest legacies are those that nurture the legacies of others.
- Ego is a double-edged sword: Leaders need an ego that instills self-confidence and determination. It takes an ego to put and keep yourself in the spotlight, to stand up to adversity and to push yourself and your company into the unknown. Ego can also be divisive and destructive when it gets out of hand. Egotism feeds entitlement thinking and behavior. At its worst, it regards people as objects to be used rather than human beings to be inspired. Use your ego for good – not evil.
- Good judgment: It doesn’t take much to tarnish a good reputation. Your business practices should always be ethical and adhere to the letter of the law. Compete aggressively but respectfully. In times of crisis, make tough decisions with compassion. Manage your behavior and thinking to prevent getting yourself into compromising situations. Choose to do what you want to be remembered for.
- Open versus closed: Open communication and information flow is nourishment for a company’s culture. Secrecy, closed doors and hidden agendas feed drama and negative speculation. The more open you are as a leader, the more open the company’s culture. Open leaders leave inspiring legacies. Closed leaders are more about opportunity costs.
- Trust in order to be trusted: All leaders want to be trusted but not all leaders trust. Trust does not come with a title. Trust is earned. No-compromise leaders extend trust to others, not blindly, but with clarified expectations. When trust flows both ways, leaders spend more time seizing growth opportunities than plugging holes in the bottom of their ship.
- Fairness and appreciation: Yes, money is important, but people work extra hard and bring their best game every day to companies led by leaders that are fair and appreciate their contributions. Work becomes work when it’s unappreciated and unrecognized. Taking the time to show sincere appreciation for one’s efforts costs nothing yet does wonders for productivity, self-esteem and contribution. Leadership is about those you lead and where you’re leading them. Show appreciation as often as it is earned.
- It’s about the dream: I always remind leaders it’s the dream that people follow. The dream is the vision of the company and what it stands for. They may respect and be inspired by the leader, but it’s still the dream they bought into. As their leader, you’re the keeper and protector of the dream. It’s never about you … unless you want the term “dictator” attached to your legacy.
These are some pretty high level thoughts regarding managing your legacy. I’m 63 years old and still working at it. Winning a book award, being on the cover of a respected industry trade publication, staying true to the principles I believe in and leading a company that stands for something are simply indicators that I’m doing the right things to ensure that I too will be proud of my legacy. No compromise.
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