One of the final books I read for my leadership class is about a leader’s legacy.  The authors have been doing leadership training and seminars for quite a while when they were challenged to write a book summarizing all of their lessons learned during their time as trainers and as leaders.  This resulting book about legacy was what resulted.

Some of it is quite cliche.  “People won’t remember what you do but how they make you feel” type of lessons throughout.  But I will give them this – they put an interesting twist on them that made me start thinking.

And, in this case, also started making me reflect on people I know as leaders and the legacy they have or are leaving.

For example, in a few short months, the former VP of IT will be retiring from the company after putting in an insanely long career.  I found him initially to be very soft spoken but in a Buddhist master sort of way where he knew he did not need to be loud to be impactful.  His leadership style was more of teacher than anything else which fits his personality.  If you had asked me what legacy he was going to leave behind him a month ago, it would have been exactly this – teacher, quite but impactful leader.

Today, that is quite different.

Over the past month his “helping” has actually come across as manipulative and resistance to letting go of his role, his team.  He took a few comments people have made, twisted them in a way to make my boss and me look uncaring and too corporate for the team and the company, and created what lead to a flurry of activities that have left my boss, in particular, questioning his leadership.  After doing all of this, he went on vacation for 2 weeks.

His actions before he left took a team that had moved from the storm of change to normalizing and performing under new leadership and tossed them back into that storm – but a new one filled with more doubt than the first storm.  People who I had thought I had established a good relationship with were now mad at me for reasons such as “when I talked to him about a comment you made, he thought you were dissing my work which I had not considered before, so now I’m upset because if he thinks you were dissing my work, you must have been.”

On top of all of this within the team, he also took his concerns outside of the team to the president of the company.  My boss, then I, learned about it only after the president called my boss in and talked to him about the issues…..the issues that were brand-new to the boss and to me.  As a result of that meeting, the boss changed a number of strategies he had rolled out to the company to improve things between IT and the business functions.  In many cases, the things that were going well were stopped entirely leaving a few of us who had found great value in them adrift in terms of what we are now supposed to do in the absence of the process.

In the book, they talk about how easy it is to turn a good legacy into a not-so-good one.  And sometimes, it comes down to mis-alignment between your personal core values with the values of the team or company.  I think that is what is happening here.  His team no longer works and functions as his team, so he is concerned proactively and on behalf of the employees he has always supported and loved.  Too bad he was supposing how they are feeling about things instead of asking them directly.  As a result, his legacy is quickly become about quiet resistance to change through big actions instead of what it was.  I should mention that since the “storm” he created, he has stopped talking to most people on the team including me.  This Buddhist master has shown he is not that at all, which is sad.

I wish I could say he is the only example I have of this sort of thing.  I look at a former leader of a kink group in our community.  She was president of that group for many years and had created quite a legacy for herself…….

……until she stepped down, felt her legacy was being squashed because of changes made, and started subverting  the new leadership both quietly and rather loudly.  In the end, she weakened the whole organization by peeling away members who were key resources for the community and its events.    I don’t necessarily agree with things the new leadership has done either, but watching the old and the new leadership battles makes me want to stay away from the bunch as neither are leaving a good legacy behind.

Thankfully, I have other leaders who left a legacy more positive.  Like the CIO that found himself being pressured to cut IT to a point it would have been crippled.  Instead of doing that, he cut his own position and himself from the team.   He also taught me you don’t have to know everything to be a good leader – and you don’t have to be political in your speak to be listened to. In fact, speaking plainly is a respected quality.

Or the IT director who left a legacy of support – of constructive feedback but only because he wanted to help you be better.  He truly came from a place of caring, so no matter the situation, you knew he had your back and his feedback was to guide you not criticize you.

The book and thinking about it through the lens of the leaders I have been exposed to has left me thinking more about my own legacy as a leader.  Will I fall into the traps of those described above, or will I follow the footsteps of those who left behind a positive legacy?

What do you think?

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