Developing Leaders – Building Teams

Wield the 5 keys to a great leadership legacy

I will always remember a profound question asked of me when preparing to take command of an Army battalion (like President of a 800 person organization): “Jeff – what do you want your leadership legacy to be?”

I was a Lieutenant Colonel at the time, had been in the Army for 18 years, and my honest response was simply “I don’t know.”

Over the past 20 plus years, I have been refining the answer to that question.

Your legacy is defined by the impact you have on the lives of others after you are gone. It is how you will be remembered. We are all leaving a legacy – there is no escaping it. How would you respond to that question?

However old or young, you have the opportunity to raise the bar on the legacy you are leaving. Whether you are in a new position in your business, a new parent or grand parent, a student or recent graduate, or perhaps you have had a setback in your life – it is never too late to refocus on what you can change – your legacy.

If you are interested in learning more about my framework, and how it might help you, read on!

The most important influencers in my life were people who ultimately pursued five separate but related actions. These five actions provided the framework for me in my pursuit of creating a positive leadership legacy in my life.

Character. Being a person of character is at the foundation of building trust with others. Character is who we are and what we stand for. It is comprised of many things but its foundation is values – those deep beliefs like integrity, courage, and respect. Values do not change over night – they are forged in one’s heart and soul over time. They ultimately drive how we behave. Character is the most admired trait I remember from my father. My Dad was a career salesman and I will always remember how respectful and kind he was to people – everyone loved him. When you think of those people who left a wonderful legacy for you, was not character the essence of the memory?

Attitude. Your attitude can change everything you do and everyone you meet. No one enjoys hanging out with chronic complainers or nay sayers. A positive attitude can be a force multiplier in daily interactions or long term strategies. I had adult leaders who believed in me – more than I believed in myself.  A positive attitude creates passion, enthusiasm, and a call to action – it can change the outcomes. You have a choice in your attitude – make it positive!

Vision. We all need a vision, or a plan, for our future. A saying attributed to the great Yogi Berra goes: “If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to end up someplace else.” A vision provides clear direction for your future. I will always remember a great mentoring session when I was a young Captain in the Army regarding vision. A senior officer invited me into his office, pulled out a legal size pad of paper, and drew a 5 year plan for me. He highlighted what success looked like, the decision points, and optional paths for me to be successful. I have used that same technique for decades. Create your future by putting a mark on the wall of where you want to be 1, 2, 5 years from now. Establish a set of milestones to get you there, then celebrate each of their achievements as you progress along the way!

Excellence. Championship teams and successful businesses do not drift to greatness – they commit themselves to excellence. Commitment means tireless pursuit of doing your absolute best, everyday, all the time. Excellence matters in everything you do. I learned early in life that I was entitled to basically nothing – that I had to earn what I got in life through giving my best everyday.  If you don’t commit to excellence yourself and demand it from others you will create a culture of mediocrity – not the legacy people need.

Relationships. Building trusted relationships with others trumps everything else when it comes to leaving a positive leadership legacy in your world. Serving the needs of others builds trust in relationships. You serve by knowing your people, genuinely caring for them, reaching out to those in need, sacrificing and celebrating with them, exercising humility, are all important aspects enabling strong relationships. I am reminded of a quote I was required to memorize while attending West Point – Schofield’s Definition of Discipline – highlighting the need to develop relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Major General John Schofield in his address to the Corps of Cadets in 1879: “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an Army.” You know you will have achieved the goal when you can feel the spirit of cohesion that permeates your hearts and souls.

My intent was to provide a framework for establishing your approach to leaving a positive leadership legacy in your world. How would you assess your behavior in each of the 5 areas? An action plan should follow your assessment that enables you to grow your ability where needed.

I assure you this model is not perfect by any means, but it helped me in the past and still does.

I wish you the best in your leadership journey.