The 8 Questions to Ask to Create Your Leadership Legacy

Leadership Legacy

This article will bring you through 8 steps toward creating and sustaining your leadership legacy. It includes thought statements, examples, and cases to help you feel and think more deeply about what you want to leave behind.

Successful CEOs transform companies in all critical areas that drive a great business – financial, culture, customers, people, and operations. They take existing foundations and transform it into a powerful new way of leading in the marketplace. The foremost question they ask is, why am I here? 

The problem is to find out the purpose and understand the reason for becoming a part of something huge. Once you can answer it confidently, you can turn the tables and build a legacy for the future CEOs.

"The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times." — Paulo Coelho.
“The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” — Paulo Coelho.

Of the CEOs I have worked and coached, a handful wouldn’t make any moves for their first year. They waited until the “right time,” last minute, or were a victim of their hubris and leadership mistakes – never recovering and trying again. 

For example, we are all aware of Mike Lazaridis & Jim Balsillie (2012, BlackBerry). Reaching the top is one step only. The real struggle begins when you have to stay there. Mike and Jim lost to Apple. They failed to keep up with the visions brought about by a shifting marketplace.

Alan Mulally, the former President & CEO of Ford Motor Company, is one of the finest examples of legacy success. He was the number one top-performing CEO both in CAGR and stock growth in the company’s history. He has focused on building a safe environment to share successes and failures to help people gain the resources and help they need to succeed. According to Alan, a safe environment allows people to share issues with you – enabling you to set some ground principles and solve them.

He believed in “Working Together.” The significant parts of his legacy included:

  • People First
  • Everyone is included and knows the plan
  • Relentless implementation combined with a comprehensive strategy and a compelling vision.
  • Clear performance goals
  • Facts
  • A positive “Find A Way” attitude
  • Respect, listen and create Emotional resilience

It further states the Mulally legacy of One Ford. One plan. One goal. Each employee has this statement on their badge.

Let us begin!

To help CEOs unearth their legacies, I set out to create an exercise that all CEOs should do, preferably at the beginning of their tenure. The eight questions I recommend you answer can begin at any point in your legacy; however, I recommend you start now.

If you are a CEO who wants to build your legacy, you must go to the mountaintop and begin asking yourself important questions about your life. Imagine yourself 15 years from now, looking back at yourself. What would you tell yourself?  What answers to these eternal questions would you give to yourself?

1. Positive Vision

When people think of my company, people will say;

Your first step is to know the existing perception of the company. It is not about negative or positive perceptions. It’s about having a vision and communicating clearly through your products, services, culture, etc. As a result, you have to think about how people will perceive your company after ten years.  

Start your engines running by thinking in this way:

  1. When people think of my company, they will think of the highest customer value, and their needs met instantly.
  2. Employees and customers feel listened to and valued for their talent and unique needs. 
  3. We are a transformative company, and we thrive rather than survive through innovation and doing the right thing – always.

As a CEO, you are building the perception of your brand. It includes both your customers and employees. Arguably Netflix is the best source of original and easily consumable entertainment. So, when people think about Netflix, they perceive “great original content that is easy to watch.” 

If you take a closer look, that’s what the company’s founder, Reed Hastings, always thought. He called linear TV old fashioned and promoted “streaming” as the new way of watching entertainment. As a result, Netflix flies high while cable companies like Comcast struggle today.

So, what will people think of your company?

CEOs get the most out of the talent in their organization. And to do that, they need to build personal connections – letting people know that they and the company cares.

2. Grand Vision

The grand mission for both employees and customers for the company is ;

What is my grand vision for the company? Your vision is a significant part of your legacy as a CEO. You have to narrow down your mission to something more specific, more precise, and measurable.

Try these on for size:

  1. My vision is to work for a purpose – a reason to be doing what they are doing in the broader life scheme.
  2. We create value and the ability to anticipate the needs of customers. 
  3. To make customers and employees part of the team, mission, and vision, involve them in every phase of the plan and execution.

For example, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, created a customer-centric platform, and transparency in their dealings is the most valuable trait. He changed the way people used to shop and is now offering them a unique experience by keeping everything transparent.

Blackberry CEOs’ loss was that they lost their grand vision, and Apple proved to be more visionary. Making your customers and employees believe in your purpose is the grand vision for your company. Help them understand your mindset of setting up a different and futuristic approach.

3. Work purpose

The “why” or purpose behind our work that gets people excited and motivated to be at their best is;

What is the purpose of our work? Why do we do what we are doing? What value do we create in the world and for the people? 

Work purpose is the foundation of a company’s vision, value statement, and unique proposition. Once you define the goal, you are ready to be unique and give your heart to it.

"Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it" ― Buddha
“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” ― Buddha

Here is a way to begin thinking about purpose:

  • The “why” of our work that gets people excited and motivated to be their best is their values mindset. 
  • People are heard enough, fulfill their needs, and have convenience in working and doing business with us.

“Why” is everything; it is the purpose that defines the legacy of you being a CEO and a company you are running. The CEO must be proactive. They must articulate a sense of purpose, have a forward-looking vision, and lead the company to tremendous success.

4. Success Measurement

I will measure success in my time as CEO by this one metric;

As a CEO, it is imperative to answer this question. You have to put a number on it; that’s how you will measure progress, no progress, or decline. Be realistic with your numbers rather than being an overconfident leader. When you know where you stand and what resources you have at your disposal, you will never set the mark too high or too low. 

People had to face failures in the past because they didn’t have a maintenance plan for success. So, measuring your success by set criteria can help focus and maintain your position.

For example, Alan Mullaly (Ford) had a 15% CAGR. He measured his success through factors like Customer, Employee, Investor, Dealer, Supplier, and Community Satisfaction. Then, you have to set the quantifiable targets for cash flow to be precise about it.

5. Leaving Behind

As a result of my being here, I will leave the following to my company;

LG Electronics recently changed its CEO in a generation shift after significant losses because of digital transformation.  Kwon is the new CEO of LG and is known for his aggressive management strategies. As LG’s new CEO, Kwon will create new plans to build his legacy by focusing on future innovations. 

The legacy you leave behind depends on your industry, customers, and employees. It must focus on how you lead and manage and the new products, services, financial improvements, or practices of thinking you leave behind. Such as: 

  • New ways of learning and re-creating old ideas and mindset patterns.
  • New ideas, strategies, and plans to turnaround past losses or failures.

6. Growth mindset

As a leader, I wish to be and become more; 

A growth mindset brings us to a more effective and successful place than we were before. A fixed mindset keeps us in a rut – the same thinking without accepting guidance and any internal reflection. Without self-reflection, combined with others’ ideas and perceptions, we can never indeed win at our legacy. 

Try thinking this way: As a leader, I wish to become more aware of my employees’ and customers’ lives. I will search for potential and do my best to polish it for the welfare of employees. I will cultivate an environment where employees are not working from paycheck to the next paycheck. They are succeeding because they are learning and growing every single day.

"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit." - Vince Lombardi
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit.” – Vince Lombardi

Therefore, find out the common growth language among your teams. As a CEO, you must know your company’s people and assist them in their growth financially, intellectually, and personally. Grooming is a factor to be kept close as a CEO.

You can take Bill Gates as an example. As a CEO, he is still working on the growth mindset. They are creating more platforms to facilitate the learning and growth culture in the companies. Programs should make employees fall in love with the challenge rather than question their capabilities. 

7. Collaborations and Connections

I will connect, learn from, and collaborate with the following people or institutions to further my growth and the growth of the company;

Think about the question: Who is in my network who will help me get there? Collaboration should occur with people who help you align things with your grand mission, vision, and purpose. Connecting aimlessly with people because they seem helpful won’t cut it. Some examples of people you can connect and collaborate with are:

  • Influencers
  • Investors
  • Institutes working with the same purpose
  • Governing bodies or officials who can help you advance your cause
  • Collaborators in your value chain who will benefit from a financial partnership.

Words, tone, and personal values will attract the right people for building stronger connections and better collaborations. Your collaborative decisions are precursors to mergers, acquisitions, partnerships in the future. 

Keeping that in view, your decisions to collaborate and connect should be measured and calculated. When resistance, pressure, uncertainty, and other similar factors make you indecisive, see my article on how to make great decisions

8. Time Spent

Based on the above, I will spend my time in the following way:

You’ve likely heard the statement ad nauseam, “Time is money.” Time in the consulting world and in most other industries like manufacturing often translate into hourly rates; why not monetize it in terms of your salary? Take your salary and divide it by the number of days and hours you work. What is your hourly? For most CEOs, it is around 261. Let us assume an eight hour day using a typical 261 days a year. Working at eight hours a day, for 261 days a year, you work 2088 hours in a year. At an annual CEO salary of 10,000,000. That’s $4789.27 an hour. Do you spend each of your $4789.27 hours achieving your legacy?

Final Word

Plan a positive vision for the future. This futuristic approach keeps finances on the right track, helps build strong teams, and develops skills and discipline imperative for sustainability as a successful CEO. Plan to cope with the changing expectations of success. Observe your legacy and become better than your expectations. And;

Ask yourself, are you ready to be a legacy leader?


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