Leadership Legacy is Overrated

When leaders arrive at the conclusion that it’s time to exit an organization, their attention often turns to determining what kind of legacy they want to leave behind.

After years of service, progress, and commitment, it can be hard to stomach the notion of being forgotten. So the task becomes, how to sprinkle reminders throughout the organization that “I was here”.

Recently, I began to think about what legacy is all about and what it should mean for senior leaders as they plan to leave an organization, particularly at retirement.  My conclusion is that the concept of leadership legacy is overrated.  As a departing leader, your main concern should be:

1. Leaving the organization better than when you arrived with a sustainable pool of leadership talent, and;

2. Preparing for a rewarding and exciting future outside of the organization

There is no need to secure your name on a building, or to control the future with a 10-year strategic plan, or to handpick your successor.  The truth is, you’ve been contributing to your legacy all along, and by the time you leave, it’s already baked. All you can really do at this point is ruin it.

The future belongs to the next generation, so let them have it!  You figured it out once upon a time, and so will they. Think about it this way: Do we know the names and interests of our ancestors? Most people don’t have much knowledge beyond their great grandparents. Yet that doesn’t mean the values, philosophies, and dreams of past generations don’t shape our lives today.

At retirement, you can have the greatest impact by sharing the values and characteristics that will produce more leaders to meet the challenges of the future.  Instead of viewing your departure as the “end of an era”, you should begin to see yourself as part of a continuum of leaders, linked both to your predecessors and successors. You will forever be woven into the history of the organization.

So when you decide to move on, if you want to have a lasting impact, don’t make it about you… Focus on the competence and honor of being a leader.  And on your way out, make sure that you are basking in the light that is being shined on your successor rather guiding the light in your direction.


- Renee -

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