What will you leave for your organization?

Now is a good time. No matter where you are in your tenure as a leader, right now is the right time to begin shaping the legacy you wish to leave your organization. Your legacy is what continues in the hearts and minds of the people, in the systems and structures of the organization, in the culture and the stories that are told for years to come. It's what stays alive after you are no longer there.

Your legacy can be an inspiring and enduring influence if you so desire and conduct yourself accordingly. Although some leaders certainly leave other types of trails and residue behind them, the concern of this article is the leader who wants to leave a positive legacy.

Think of Steve Jobs, a current example of a celebrity-status leader who clearly left a powerful legacy.  On the local level, Gene Benedetti of Clover Stornetta comes to mind. His values, charisma and vision molded a unique and very successful company. His son, Dan, and grandson, Marcus, have continued to build on that precedent. I recently met with the CEO of a large non-profit organization who is actively working on the legacy she intends to leave when the time comes for her to move on to another company. She has identified two key initiatives; both are long-term, complex and very ambitious. Their successful achievement will provide a safety net of exceptional organizational depth and strength. All of these examples illustrate that a positive legacy is one of the manifestations of a leader's love for his or her company.

Being purposeful about your legacy should be on every good leader's agenda. It involves taking the long view, thinking beyond the immediate feedback loop and challenges of the day, and considering quite consciously the impact you want to have on your organization.Here are four key questions to help you develop your legacy plan.

1. What does your organization need in order to thrive beyond your tenure?

While you are in the leader’s chair you can influence a great many variables that help determine the course of events. But when you are no longer there in person, what qualities can you imbue into the organization that will help it survive and thrive? Perhaps it's innovation? Discipline? Quality products or services?  Integrity? Perhaps it's a constellation of several critical factors.

A pat answer to this question or a textbook theory is not likely to get the job done. Dig deeply. Answering it requires insight and understanding of the specific qualities that will provide your organization what it needs to sustain good health for years to come. Once you have identified these essential qualities, then ask the following question:

2. How can you influence, shape, and develop your organization to reflect these qualities?

Depending on your starting point, this may be a very long-term process, over many years. Do not be daunted by that, nor delay in getting started.Once you have set your intention, then everything you do as a leader can be evaluated against your legacy plan.It helps you establish and honor your own personal standards for your ethics, behavior, and decisions.

The basic 3-step management mantra of “Think-Plan-Do” applies nicely here. Think about the legacy you want to leave. Plan the strategies that will develop your organization. Do what is required to achieve your goals. Considering what's required begets the third question:

3. What are your unique talents, gifts, and abilities that you can use to create the legacy you desire?

Take stock of your particular strengths, traits, and skills, and then build on them.Perhaps you are a gifted communicator, an excellent coach and mentor, a talented designer of organizational structures and processes, a brilliant marketer, or a dynamic visionary.Whatever your gifts may be, bring them forward to help you in developing your organization.You may also choose to bring in expert assistance to assist you in building the capacities of your organization.

This investment in organizational development is accomplished by the accumulation of small, consistent daily actions over time, not occasional grand gestures or a magnificent finale. The fourth and final question in this quartet is the back-story for all the others:

4. What leadership succession plan do you have in place that will increase the likelihood of your organizational development efforts paying off?

It's rarely too soon to begin the process of identifying and developing younger leaders who may inherit the next generation of responsibility in your organization. Devote resources to developing leaders at all levels. A continuing line of capable and effective leaders will be needed to guide your company for years to come. Determine how you and others can help prepare and mentor them.

Leaving a positive legacy is the ultimate application of building for the future and giving an invaluable gift to your organizational heirs. Think beyond the present, envision your organization without you, then do whatever you can do to ensure the positive future you want for your company. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, has said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it."                         •••

Mary Luttrell is a business strategy advisor who has helped hundreds of companies simplify complexity, turn challenges into opportunities and increase success. She provides services in strategic planning, marketing, organizational development, meeting and retreat facilitation, and executive/leadership coaching. Ms. Luttrell is an ISO-Certified Management Consultant whose firm has been named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America. She writes a weekly blog on leadership; to subscribe visit her website. Contact Mary at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net. Visit her website at www.maryluttrell.com.

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