|A leader’s legacy can’t be left to the last minute|
Like many people around the globe, I watched with avid interest as events unfolded around the UK’s referendum on its membership of the EU. As I followed the twists and turns, it reminded me of the complexities of leadership, as well as the importance of the strength and depth of relationships we, as leaders, need to nurture with our stakeholders, and how these relationships can ultimately play out.
It also caused me to reflect on the key issue of personal branding as a leader, which I would simply define as “what we stand for”, and our leadership legacy, which I would explain as “what we will be remembered for”. David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, served the country for six years, and portrayed himself as a leader with integrity. He might now be remembered for abdicating responsibility for a problem he is perceived to have created. Meanwhile, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn - a potential PM-in-waiting - lost the confidence of much of the cabinet team he has led for a little over a year, and could be remembered for “not doing enough to support the argument for remaining in the European Union”. As I write this, his tenure as a leader was seriously under threat. Whatever your opinion on the outcome of the referendum, lessons in leadership were there for all to see.
Developing your personal leadership brand is no easy task, but it is an important one nonetheless, while delivering that brand in a consistent and ethical way is a fundamental requirement for every modern day leader if they are to be at all successful. Many organisations today go beyond standard leadership training, focusing as much on developing their leaders’ personal brand – if you like, a promise to stakeholders that the organisation is committed to developing outstanding leaders with a unique set of skills, aligned to stakeholder expectations.
Organisations such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Goldman Sachs, Disney, and Boeing are all cited by Harvard Business Review as good examples of companies who invest in developing their leadership brand to make good their promises to employees and customers through their leaders. However, this is still very much a corporate-driven approach. At an individual level, successful leaders need to take the time to identify their own leadership brand, asking themselves what I believe to be four essential questions: “Who am I?”, “what do I stand for?”, “how will I be remembered?”, and “how do I want to be remembered?”.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but building your reputation and leadership brand takes a willingness and commitment to know and show yourself as a leader. This means defining, communicating, and demonstrating your absolute values through your actions and behaviours, and fulfilling your promises, regardless of the challenges placed in front of you. I said it sounds simple; though for those of you that have the courage to ask your peers, employees, your family, and your customers those same questions…well the responses might be revealing.
In an article published by Forbes in 2014, it was suggested that leaders do not spend enough time thinking about their leadership legacy, and whether they will leave the organisation and its people in a better or worse position as a result of their endeavours. This might be excused on the basis that we simply don’t have the time, and because it’s something we should be considering only at the end of our career, right?
Wrong! A legacy is something we build over time and - when you are talking about leadership - it is shaped by the impact we have, both on the people and the organisation we serve; our experiences and what we learn from them; our ability to lead through humility and wisdom; and our ability to inspire self and others. These are leadership qualities that promote development and growth, inspire trust, and are timeless rather than short-lived.
The rhetoric and reality surrounding leadership can often be poles apart. Don’t leave it to chance: consider who you are, what you stand for and how you want to be remembered as a leader, then plot your course and stay true to your conviction. Something that the UK’s key Brexit actors might do well to remember.
Michael Castle is Executive Development Director at Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG)
Reference: Gulf News