In one of the courses for the Executive MBA program at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, our Cohort was asked to present, in five minutes or less, our individual “leadership legacy statement.”

On the day of our presentations, each of the fifty cohorts stood up and presented. During the course of the presentations we were often moved to tears. We frequently laughed. We were inspired by one another. 

Several of us commented afterwards that we wished we had completed this exercise much earlier in the program because, as a result of it, we felt we knew one another on a much deeper level. Our appreciation for one another had grown immensely.

Applying it to a Large Organization
It was an excellent exercise in self-awareness and I highly recommend trying it in your business or organization. In fact, I did just that, bringing it back to the 500+ Full Time Equivalent (FTE) organization that I led at the time, asking all of our directors and managers to participate. 

As each presentation was given, we took notes. From the notes, we could see common themes emerging. From those common themes we drafted an organizational leadership legacy statement, and had everyone literally sign off on it. 

Finally, we framed it and hung it on the walls of our multiple facilities.

It was one of the best things we ever did as a leadership team to get to know each other on a more personal level--and it was a great method of communicating how we really wanted to be viewed by our employees and stakeholders. It solidified our common mission even further and became a major influencing force behind our continued growth to well over 700 FTE, before acquisitions and divestitures broke the organization apart.

This is what it developed into.

Our Leadership Legacy Statement

As a leader, it is my responsibility to own and communicate a vision for those who would follow. It is then my responsibility to make sure a plan to get there is created and managed. These are my responsibilities, but my leadership legacy is something more.

As a leader, my actions speak louder than my words. I need to be visible so that others can see me give of myself, hold myself accountable, and move in a decisive manner so that they, in turn, will be driven to strive for greatness. After all, it is greatness that I want for them. Throughout our journey, they must know that they can approach me with good news and bad, and that I expect them to come to the table with solutions, not complaints, as I will. I act with a sense of humility, recognizing and appreciating the efforts and achievements of others.

As a leader, I am empathetic to others. I recognize that I am engaging with real people, not positions. I am engaging with real people, not e-mail or mailing addresses. I am engaging with real people, not voices on the phone. I am engaging with real people who have real lives outside of work, and I must ensure that they are properly balancing work and life. I must truly listen to what they are saying and feeling, not necessarily to the words they use. To do so sometimes requires my patience and always, my caring. 

As a leader, I instill trust. Sometimes trust comes without condition. Sometimes, trust must be earned. At all times, trust must be nurtured. Trust does not come without honesty and respect. I must protect an environment of equality, fairness, and inclusion in order for trust to flourish.

As a leader, I teach others. Communication is the framework of teaching. I must be willing to share what I know and what I believe when appropriate. Others may not necessarily agree with what I have to say, but I must at least say it and then provide my reasoning, so that others may form their own thoughts and opinions, learning from my knowledge and experience, even if that means ultimately moving in another direction.

As a leader, I am flexible. The circumstances around me will always change, usually outside of my control. I therefore continually embrace change and adapt. Sometimes change does not come without risk. I must be smart enough to recognize the risk, brave enough to accept it, and creative enough mitigate it.

As a leader, I never stop learning. Likewise, I never stop encouraging others to learn. Learning is not limited to reading the success stories of others, earning a degree or certification or completing a class. These are all important components to learning. But I must also learn from my mistakes. I must create an environment in which it is acceptable for others to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and look ahead to continuous improvement, not back to find points of blame.

As a leader, I contribute to the growth of others. Others grow when they are prepared, encouraged, and permitted to take on new growth opportunities. It is my responsibility to make sure that growth opportunities are created and communicated. Whether a person seeks opportunities within or outside of my area of responsibility, I do not discourage them nor stand in the way. I challenge people to grow and let them know they are expected to enable the growth of others.

As a leader, I recognize the strengths of others. In order to do so, I must first understand and know myself well. I have my own strengths, but I am not infallible. I have weaknesses. I must use my strengths, but I must recognize and use the strengths of others and my team to succeed.

As a leader, I create and promote teamwork. I motivate and inspire my team to do great things. I am the keeper of team morale. It is important to work hard, but to also have fun and enjoy what we do.

As a leader, I celebrate our success. Success does not always have to be measured in large numbers. It is as important to celebrate the little things as it is the big.

What Will Your Leadership Legacy Be?
One of the things we found in this exercise was that as important as it was to look at ourselves individually, and ask some deep probing questions, it was even more important for others to hear those answers.

Your employees, your stakeholders, and your peers all want to know, what will your leadership legacy be?