From Leadership to Legacy!

Succession Planning is a key future strategic mechanism often used in large-scale corporate entities.  It is a systematic process for identifying, evaluating, and developing potential successors for key leadership roles in an organization.  It is not necessarily based upon past performance in a role.  However, one’s performance will certainly assist leaders in deciding if a person should be “tapped on the shoulder” for a potentially really big future.  In this process, key persons are identified based upon potential to grow and be groomed for the positions to which they will ultimately be elevated!  Interestingly, the succession planning model has been adopted in public, private, and the non-profit world, including in many mega-churches.  The truth is smart leaders from many sectors anticipate a future of success beyond their tour of duty by preparing others and refusing to trust what is ahead to the fickle whims of chance.

When I think of succession planning, I don’t simply think about who has been identified for a “big future,” or who is next in line.  I think about Legacy.  I think about legacy because the one next in line to achieve something great often does so because someone before has left a legacy.  That legacy has prepared the next generation of leaders to achieve even greater feats.   What I am really getting at is that the greatest leaders desire to create a legacy and, therefore, work diligently to set a tremendous example and teach those whom they are given the privilege to lead, thus setting them up for true success. 

Think about a family and the real definition of legacy.  Legacy denotes inheritance.  And many parents desire to leave some sort of inheritance to their offspring.  While often an inheritance is in the form of a financial blessing, values, integrity, and one’s work ethic and ethical posture can also be shaped and influenced by what has been passed down from generation to generation in families.  In fact, internal deposits are far more precious than gold, diamonds, or cash.  And truthfully, the same can be said of organizations.  In other words, we must teach what we want to repeat.  So it is in life and in business – if we desire the next generation of leaders to achieve at a whole new level, then we must create an inheritance in the form of legacy to be passed on to them.

The Leap From Leadership to Legacy Leadership!

With that said, let me define what I mean when I use the term leadership followed by a combined definition of leadership and legacy to arrive at Legacy Leadership.  But first, I must make an admission.  When I undertook the serious pursuit of leadership as a means of livelihood, I brought with me a very traditional “corporate” and dictionary definition of leadership to which I added a bit of my own flavor.  I said, “Leadership is the art of ethically influencing others to move toward a particular goal or specific achievement and is marked by intentionality and an attitude of service.”  Practically speaking, however, in the trenches of the real work, I learned my definition didn’t nearly meet what I began to see as real leadership.  So, I returned to the well and emerged with the following definition of Leadership, which now shapes and forms the basis or foundation for all that I teach about leadership.

Leadership is the gift of sacrifice for the benefit of an-other, and legacy is the inheritance you create for those who follow.  Legacy Leadership is possible when you operate outside of comfort.  Comfort is the place where you do only the things that feel comfortable rather than stretching for something that is larger than you alone can achieve.  Comfort equates to small, shallow thinking, refusal to take a risk or settling for the mediocre.  Those who push themselves toward dreams that are bigger create the possibility for reaching what is extraordinary and what will impact others even after the leader is no longer physically present.  

In my mind, legacy has five key components.  I call them the Five Living Essentials because they must be lived in order to make a real difference.

Intentionality – Intentionality in leadership means you approach leadership intending to achieve something great. You do nothing by accident; rather, you operate from a well thought out and written strategy and plan of action.  In other words, the best leaders live with purpose.  The intentional leader searches to find the precise reason they live on this earth and are deliberate about the journey to achieve just that.  When intention meets purpose it sets the stage for transformation, and authentic leadership is born from life’s transformational moments.

Authenticity – Authentic leaders are true to the person they say they are and practice ‘what you see is what you get’ type leadership.   These leaders refuse to profess one lifestyle while living another.   As such, authentic leaders immerse themselves in self-awareness and self-development and emerge more mature with the ability to remove the masks that prevent them from walking in purpose and developing into the unique persons they were intended to be.  As an authentic leader, you will ably express vulnerability thus inspiring others to do the same.  In fact, authentic leaders admit wrong and embrace change.  Instead of simply imitating others, authentic leaders boldly live life as they were created to live.  In doing so, these leaders are more capable of being their true selves with others.

Transparency – Transparent leaders operate from a place that allows the light of their innermost selves to be seen by others, as they are marked by the uncanny ability to be candid and open with self and others.  In short, authenticity is about self-awareness and self-development while transparency is more about self-disclosure or self-expression that allows others to see your true person.  In other words, transparent leaders self-reveal at a whole new level.

Influence – Influence carries the power to produce results, and the most influential leaders realize they both influence and are influenced by others.  Influence is an ethical question about you as a leader knowing and understanding your power to influence or be influenced in an ethical manner.  Power is simply possessing authority, but influence is the ‘know how’ in using power to achieve good.  As such, you strive to know those who are within your sphere of influence and understand you often influence just because you hold the title leader.

Impact – Leaders of impact drive to make a difference in the lives of others.  They are driven by the very possibility of leaving behind for future leaders valuable lessons that will cause them to also become leaders of impact.  Influence is about how a leader uses power.  On the other hand, impact is the result of powerfully using influence in an ethical manner.

In my book, Leadership DASH, I put it this way, “All too often as leaders we have neglected to pass the greatest aspects and lessons of leadership to future generations.”  Consequently, in whatever role you work, live, or play, if you are called by the title leader “part of the responsibility of leading well is to pass leadership lessons and principles of leadership to the generations that follow.”  It takes all of these elements to create legacy, and the truth is you cannot pass on what you have not in some shape, form, or fashion lived.

Which elements have you already embraced?  Which ones do you yet have to adopt in your role as leader?  What will be your legacy?


Geneace Williams, J.D., Ph.D., is President of OLW Communications, Inc., a Leadership Strategy and Consulting Firm.   Described by others as a thought leader and trusted advisor, she focuses her work on helping clients, both small and large, enhance their leadership acumen and strategic approach to initiatives germane to their business vision and mission.


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