It is every CEO’s desire, and some would rightly argue obligation, to leave a clear, dynamic, and long-lasting legacy. Although many have successful careers in leadership, not all depart leaving behind clear and easy-to-follow foot prints for the organization to follow.
Legacy-building is hard work, and knowing how to begin can be the toughest part. More than creating fond memories and being a likeable boss, a CEO’s legacy should be one that allows the organization to carry on in a complete, healthy and vibrant fashion that does not leave gaping holes in the cultural fabric, team dynamic or within the organization’s place with the industry-at-large.
Be forewarned -- one cannot not leave a legacy. But will it be the one that you desire? That is the question.
A strong legacy is not constructed overnight. One’s legacy is made up of an entire body of work over one’s life time. Steve Jobs left Apple in a highly successful position in their industry and as the highest valued company in the world at the time. Likewise, Anita Roddick created a company (The Body Shop) that not only would thrive after her departure but has experienced more success today than ever before in its history.
So where does this leave you? How do you stack up or do you at all? Here are the first steps that need to be considered as you strategically move in this direction.
1. First, define you.
Without knowing what is important to you, what defines you as a person, a professional and as a global citizen, you cannot really define your legacy for others to passionately embrace.
2. Start early.
If you wait until your career’s twilight to begin planning for a unique and dynamic legacy, you have waited too long. Building a true legacy takes a life time and typically will not be defined by a single event -- and if it is, it will not likely be as long-lasting as you desire it to be.
3. Further your accomplishments.
Look at the body of work that you have created thus far. What can be done to highlight what has been accomplished? How can you extend the value of previous successes and how can you leverage past success to help create future ones?
4. Be known as a great communicator.
Ronald Reagan was known as the great communicator. He treated public speaking as though it was an important aspect to his presidency and not just a tool of it. If you are not communicating to your team with all-staff meetings or company memos that are stamped by your name, you should be.
5. Cultivate a healthy company culture.
Employees want to be led by a leader who genuinely cares about them. Employees know that a CEO cares about the organization’s margins, cash on hand, inventory turns, what their competition is doing, etc. Employees want to believe that their leader is equally concerned about their wellbeing as well.
6. Leave a strong infrastructure.
This one comes in two parts. First, systems. It is important that when the CEO of several years steps away that there are not major IT, accounting and operations-related holes left to deal with by the incoming CEO. Leave healthy systems in place so that the foundations are strong and can sustain challenges as well as opportunities that lie ahead.
Second, your leadership team. As you prepare for this move, make certain that you have put in place a strong and dynamic leadership team. As you step away, it will be this team who sees the organization through this period of transition and into the future.
7. Avoid CEO-customer centricity.
If you are also the chief or primary sales contact for all of the organization’s key accounts when you depart, will your customers depart as well? This is an area that needs to be thought through and planned out very carefully. Gutting the company’s portfolio of clients, unintentionally or otherwise, will scuttle any attempt at leaving a healthy legacy that endures.
8. Ensure strategic planning know-how.
Does your leadership team (and board, if relevant) know how to plan strategically? Although you may have planned for a current strategic mapping of the immediate future, what happens if the landscape evolves in an unexpected way after you’ve departed? Can your leadership team survive and thrive? The answer to this question must be a definitive, “yes!”
9. No surprises.
When you are planning to step away, do not shock and surprise your team, or the organization at large, with the news. Two week notices are not for CEOs, sorry. Anything less than one year for a planned retirement is not appropriate. Emergencies and unplanned events occur that force revised planning, but if you have your druthers at your disposal, make certain that you say goodbye in a respectful, professional and caring way (it, too, will be a part of your lasting legacy).
10. Promote excellence, not perfection.
Laurence Olivier once said that striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is. It’s your excuse to yourself for not doing anything. Instead, strive for excellence—or doing your best. Encouraging your team to pursue excellence and having excellence as an active, fluid part of your company’s culture will help ensure that your legacy is secured through the ages.
These are good first steps to ponder as you begin building your strategy for when you are ready to step away. Saying goodbye is difficult, but planning ahead as to how best to leave a long-lasting legacy will make it that much easier.