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What’s your legacy?

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How have you impacted an organisation and what will happen after you’re gone? Academics from leading business schools share their advice on preparing to leave a positive legacy.

Do you regularly transform? Professor Martin Binks, Nottingham University Business School, UK

"The limited horizons that constrain many organisations are often imposed from the top down. One of the most powerful legacies any leader can build is to establish a philosophy of innovation and ingenuity." 

"The nature of leadership is evolving swiftly, due to the speed of technological evolution, the churn of trading conditions, and the edging of responsibility towards the ‘frontline’. Leaders who fail to respond to this transformation risk making poor decisions. Some think the answer lies in replacing ‘traditional’ leadership characteristics such as control with ‘softer’ traits, including delegation and empathy. Others champion ‘inclusive’ leadership. What is needed is dynamic judgement: thinking loosely and open-mindedly, looking beyond the familiar."

"It’s not necessary to be a ‘visionary’ only to challenge orthodoxy, make connections and reach beyond the one-dimensional and the supposedly ‘tried and tested’"



Do you ask enough questions? Dr Bart Vanneste, UCL School of Management, UK

"To create a strong and memorable legacy, ensure you leave behind a sound decision-making process. After you leave, circumstances will vary, decisions will change, people will leave or join, but processes are likely to endure."

"Senior managers often focus narrowly on an issue at stake; for example, should we buy this particular company? It’s useful to think of the benefits and costs of buying the company, but we need to think about the alternatives available. Could we buy another company, form an alliance with this company or enter the market on our own? Embedding assessment of key alternatives in your decision-making process will help your company thrive long after you’re gone."

Do you decipher priorities? Dr Benson Rosen, Kenan-Flagler Business School, US

"Spending too much time on daily tasks and too little on strategic initiatives is a common trap. To provide perspective, I ask executives to project themselves 10 or more years into the future and contemplate what their legacies might be; what they hope to accomplish and what would give them a sense of pride and satisfaction." 

"What executives envision as their legacy varies, but there is consensus among many that the most gratifying legacy is having coached, developed and mentored the next generation of leaders in their organisations."


Do you create security? Professor Peter Hawkins, Henley Business School, UK

"All great leaders create leaders. They also need to create collective leadership in the team they lead and to ask: ‘have I developed a team that can lead and run this business without me?’"

"Much has been written about a leader’s first 100 days, but there is far less about how leaders plan their last 100 days; just like starting, ending is a process. I have helped a number of chief executives to ‘leave before they leave’, which comprises three stages."

"Three months before leaving, leaders must recognise the many critical relationships and roles they hold in their organisation, identifying who should be given responsibility for them and also prepare their teams to step up to greater collective responsibility. Two months before leaving, they should be making introductions and handing over. During their last month, their role is to mentor and support successors in their new responsibilities and encourage their leadership team to start having meetings without them."



Do you give insightful advice? Anthony J. Nyberg, Darla Moore School of Business, US

"For the majority of leaders, ‘how will I be remembered?’ is a terrifying question, because we are often poor at understanding our own contributions and prone to overestimating others’ perceptions of our accomplishments. Luckily, for most of us, our legacies will be less about specific accomplishments, and more about how well we develop those who follow."

"When we ask ourselves how we will be remembered, the key to the answer is ‘who have you developed and how will they be thanking you after you are gone?’"

"Think about who has inspired, motivated and developed you and what they did to achieve this."

"Identify potential developmental targets within, and outside of, your responsibilities. As well as thinking about how to develop your own people, identify people outside your chain of command, plus younger people from outside your immediate family and organisation."

"Reach out to those you have identified in step two. It doesn’t require lots of time, but attention and interest are necessary."
"Ask yourself whether you provide the best advice for each and every individual you encounter. This requires sincere focus on the individual and the prudence to keep your own ego out of the conversation."

Emily Sexton-Brown

By Emily Sexton-Brown

Emily is the commissioning editor at Changeboard

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