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5 Ways to Create Your Leadership Legacy

by Gail Whitaker, DM, Former University Dean of Business and Management

CTU Business Degree - Leadership LegacyRepresentative John Dingell, Jr., the longest serving U.S. Congressman, recently discussed his thoughts on the legacy of many U.S. Presidents.  In the USA Today article, From FDR to Obama, Dingell noted how a number of Presidents would be remembered:

  • FDR ranks as one of the three greatest U.S. Presidents.
  • Truman, he notes, saved the country by dropping the atomic bomb when he did and saved many American soldiers’ lives.
  • Eisenhower, he states, did not accomplish much as President.
  • LBJ, he recounts, is remembered for Federal Aid, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.
  • Ford he ranks as a good President because he calmed down the country, but does not feel he was a great President.
  • Carter, he acknowledged, was kind and good-hearted but was too stuck on seeing every tree in the woods without being able to see the woods and failed at addressing complex issues.
  • Reagan he ranked as mediocre.  

His list continued to cover the accomplishments or lack thereof for Presidents Bush, Sr.; Clinton; George W. Bush; and Obama.  

His assessment had me thinking about one question: “How will you be remembered as a leader?” Will you be remembered as one of the greatest leaders in your organization or community?  Will you be remembered for impacting lives, creating change, or being good hearted?  Will you be remembered as existing without accomplishing much, being mediocre, or not being able to face the complexities in the workplace? Whether intentionally crafted or not, everyone has a work leadership legacy.  

I have talked with many leaders about their leadership legacy and I often hear “I am who I am and people have to accept me” but I then follow up by asking, “Do you want to be remembered for your quirks or your works”? The beauty of life is the fact that we can create our own narrative of how we want to be remembered.  Here are five tips on creating your leadership legacy.

  1. Ask others – find out how you are perceived by others. Often, it is not what you think.  You should ask individuals you trust who would give you honest feedback on how you are perceived by them and others.  You can ask your employer to do a complete 360 degree feedback where you can see how you are perceived by your staff, peers, and boss. There is often a cost to a complete 360 degree process and it is time consuming.  For a quick, free, and informal assessment you can use a template developed by Survey Monkey called 360 Employee Feedback Survey.  This survey is not comprehensive but will give you some perspective on how you are perceived by others.  You can then decide if these perceptions represent how you want to be perceived or if changes are necessary.
  2. Watch others – you can watch others’ body language, reactions, and behavior when you are communicating with them.  You can identify certain body language to see if individuals trust or fear you; are stressed or relaxed in your presence; or interested or disengaged with your conversation.  There are many websites that will help you identify the meaning behind body language but I would caution you not to make too many assumptions.  You are not an expert in reading body language so you may make some unfounded accusations.  For instance, fear and lying often masks in the same body language.  You should watch for clues and follow up with questions “I am sensing that you are a little nervous when we meet,” etc.  
  3. Self assess – be aware of your own personality and work style.  HumanMetrics has a free Jung Typology Test™ based on Briggs Myers personality tests. Having insight to your own personality and work style can help you identify how you relate to others and how they could possibly perceive you.  There are many online free personality tests available that will help you with your self assessment.
  4. Make a list – make a list of all the areas you are known to add value to your organization.  Maybe you are known to add efficiency in processes or able to come up with innovative solutions to problems. See if you can help other departments or staff by using your skills to help the organization overall. The goal is to create a narrative around your positive impact on the organization.  
  5. Do something good – do something so positive in the organization you will always be remembered.  You can organize employees to help a nonprofit or support a community drive.  You can start a leadership books club or mentor a new manager.  Curt Rosengren of U.S. News & World Report gave some excellent recommendations in his article, 7 Ways to Make a Difference on the Job.  

Whatever opportunity you leverage, remember you have the power to define your leadership legacy.  

Let’s hear from you.  Tell us ways you have created a positive leadership legacy at your job.

Image credit: Flickr/Cydcor