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A Leader's Legacy





Book: 'A Leader's Legacy'

Authors: James M Kouzes and Barry Z Posner


Publisher: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2006


ISBN: 978-0-7879-8296-6

Leader Values

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University pose a challenging and slightly disturbing question: When you move on, will you leave your organisation in better shape than you found it? They point out that what you leave behind is your legacy; it’s what others will inherit from you. Or to put it more personally, it is how you will be remembered.

Yet surprisingly, leaders rarely think about the legacy that they will leave. Yes, they typically make progression plans to ensure that there is someone to take over their role when they move on. Their organisation expects them to do that. But too often they simply leave their legacy to chance. Kouzes and Posner recommend a more proactive approach, pointing out that “thinking about a legacy can be extremely energizing and uplifting”.

But how do you think about something as intangible as your legacy? A Leader’s Legacy is a very practical and down-to-earth exploration of this question. It contains 22 short essays, each dealing with one aspect of legacy. Although the bookstores are overflowing with books on leadership, A Leader’s Legacy has something unique to say because it takes the unusual perspective of looking at what the leader leaves behind. This produces some new and thought-provoking angles on familiar questions.

Consider vision, for example. Many authors describe the leader working in splendid isolation, coming up with a motivating vision and then selling it to the organisation. But what happens when the leader leaves? If it was only his/her vision, it will probably die. Leaders who leave a lasting legacy discover their people’s vision – one that takes account of their strongest yearnings and deepest fears. That is a much more challenging task, but one that ensures that the vision will survive when the leader leaves.

Kouzes and Posner also discuss the single biggest weakness of leaders: They don’t ask for feedback. Or to put it more forcefully, “Most leaders don’t want honest feedback, don’t ask for honest feedback, and don’t get much of it unless it’s forced on them”. They are very focused on how others are doing; but are afraid to ask how they are doing themselves, since it may expose their weaknesses and failings. However, ignoring the early warnings can lead to more serious problems later. So leaders who set up a system for obtaining feedback – and listen to it – can improve organisational performance and enhance their legacy.

A Leader’s Legacy also has no sympathy for “Get it right the first time” thinking. In the authors’ view, failure is okay; in fact it is inevitable. The important thing is to admit mistakes, learn from them and then try again. Kouzes and Posner suggest that “Those who leave the most lasting legacies are those who have failed and then tried again”.

This is stimulating and provocative reading for recharging your leadership batteries.

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