Leading isn’t easy. In addition to the responsibility of making tough decisions everyday, there is another critical component that pervades a leader’s thinking, something that he or she can’t help but wonder from time to time, and that is: What will be my leadershiplegacy?
A leader’s legacy is a byproduct of the historical decisions one makes driven by his or her personal values. In other words, a solid legacy plants the seeds from which consistency and expectations sprout that, in turn, become the organizational funnel for future performance. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, bestowed upon his employees one question to always keep in mind when making decisions: Will what I’m doing right now result in a win for the company? As a result, he took GE from $13 billion in 1981 to $480 billion in 2000—an achievement still talked about.
Here are six ways leaders can leave long-lasting legacies:
1. Keep employees engaged. Leaders set the organizational boundaries that enable high involvement and they do so by setting a clear vision of where the company needs to go–and most importantly, they explain why. When people understand why a decision is made they are in a better position to be resourceful and decide the best way to work towards that vision.
2. Stay people focused. Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. A leader is always “on;” there is no time off when the public forum is your stage. Believing in human capital and demonstrating interest are two different things. Below are three ways in which a leader can show genuine interest in employees:
- Take an alternative route through the company and visit employees you don’t normally see
- Make unannounced offsite visits and hold town hall meetings for Q&A
- Stop by an employee’s office for a conversation
3. Spin the spiral. There is a phenomenon that I call the Spiral of Motivation, and it works like this: Imagine entering into a SEAL team (sorry, I’m biased) as a new member, and the team to which you’re assigned just returned from rescuing Captain Phillips, or from saving Jessica Buchanan from her pirate captors, or killing the most wanted man in the world—Osama bin Laden. Imagine for a moment, the standard that must exist to not only sustain but also improve such high levels of performance.
However, over time, team members who participated in such operations ultimately depart the team but in so doing leave a wake of excellence behind them for others to espouse; a legacy of awesome-ness that cannot be replicated yet still serves as a vision to pursue. In other words, a bar is set that is constantly raised and it motivates lesser-experienced members to become better, thus causing a spiral effect through time.
Great leaders may dare greatly, but more so, they encourage others to spin their own spirals—and keep daring.