Leadership Legacy

Did you ever think that when you die, what will you be remembered for?

I do and I thank a host of CEOs and my brother: Several years ago, I hopped on a plane to Boston and then to San Francisco to meet with CEOs across a diverse group of industries: technology, financial services, medical devices, bio-technology, publishing, outsourcing and communications, frankly to figure out what was the next step in my career. 

Leadership Legacy: What came as a surprise was each conversation gravitated without any provocation to legacy. Not the material definition of legacy – of a handing down, a gift of property, money, or even profits. Rather, the common thread was a concern with legacy of purpose, and impact.

“What’s the footprint I want to leave on this company. I know I have a significant financial responsibility to the employees and their families, to our shareholders and partners, yet to grow in meaningful ways, we have to be more than a revenue generating entity.”

These executives were curious – a characteristic of every successful senior leader I’ve met –searching for their own purpose as well as their organizations because they understood that strategy alone would not reap high performance going forward, nor leave a lasting legacy of impact.

The concept of integrating strategy and purpose is not new, thanks to Jim Collins, Michael Porter, Rosabeth Moss Cantor, etc., yet organizations for the most part are still operating in models from 50 years ago. The struggle between old processes and new demands of speed, uncertainty, global scope and transparency mean past solutions are no longer the reliable guide for future action.

Now, how?: What these successful, thoughtful leaders sought was a path to unifying and inspiring their organizations behind a common purpose. For many, it became equally clear that while embedding purpose – the key reason for being beyond the bottom line – is a top strategy for growth, it also serves as a powerful differentiator in the war for talent, investment and brand supremacy. Note: Fewer than 10% of organizations know how to go about integrating it into their enterprises.

Recently, I was further influenced by my brother who had just retired after a full career as an attorney for the EPA, prosecuting offenders and teaching countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia about environmental law. I say this with great respect and I hope this doesn't happen for a very long time; he can die knowing he’s made an impact on the world. I want to die knowing I tried to do something lasting. If you’re reading this note, you probably do as well.

What’s Purpose: My purpose is to unlock the spark inside of people and companies: their purpose. Purpose is the foundation for the pursuit of excellence; of realizing full potential in work and everyday life. Purpose is the articulation of your reason for being, of how you want to make a difference in the world – both personally and professionally.

When you discover what truly drives you, it provides focus and motivation for everything you do. People are more fulfilled when they feel they have a meaningful impact – in other words, when they have a purpose. So, in business, purpose fuels economic growth, ignites brand engagement, attracts and retains talent and fosters visionary ideas. Purpose is the critical difference between merely sustaining or thriving-- being on the path to better all the time.

Start where you are: This is a wakeup call to living your life fully, about leading fully, and making a difference. Lasting impact can’t be achieved at the tail end or the beginning of your tenure or because you put a poster in every conference room about the company’s vision and values. It’s created throughout the course of your leadership, your career and your life.

Be a part of the social growth movement: having your own purpose and one for your company is all in the pursuit of better: better as individuals, teams, and organizations. Here’s how purpose becomes leadership legacy:

  • Take it to the top: make establishing your company’s purpose a top strategic initiative
  • Share your purpose: your leadership POV is what will inspire others
  • Tap truth-tellers: no one knows better than partners and customers what the blind spots are
  • Define the company purpose: by the meaningful impact that's consistency made on the lives of all stakeholders, partners and the community at large
  • Evaluate and reinforce: know how it’s working and keep improving
  • Stand up to it: even in times of uncertainty, your purpose and principles will guide you to always doing the right thing