To paraphrase a good friend and wonderful leader-mentor, “All leaders are departing leaders.” By our very human nature, our time in any position of leadership is temporary, whether that span be in decades, years, months, days, or even minutes. Effective leaders understand this, and begin preparing for their departure as soon as, or even before, they take the reins.
Often, when we as leaders speak of “leaving our legacy,” we think about the accomplishments, changes, vision, or policies for which we will be remembered.
Yet policies, vision, changes, and even accomplishments can have a short life-span. Sometimes they are gone as soon as the leader departs, yet even when they last a relatively long time, they like the leader are temporary in nature.
The one legacy, however, that has the potential to stand the test of time is development the next generation of leaders. For this reason, the best and most memorable leaders with and for whom I’ve served have understood the importance of pouring their lives and experience into the leaders of the future.
In my faith we refer to this as “discipleship,” and in business we often call it “mentorship,” but regardless of the title, it is the development not just of followers, but of future leaders, by providing a virtuous example, investing ourselves in their lives, passing along our knowledge, skills, and values, and (most importantly), teaching them to do the same for the leaders who will follow them.
And I believe we must not simply develop “good” or “effective” leaders, but virtuous leaders. Leaders who are able to identify and discern what is right, and then have the moral fortitude to lead themselves and others in the pursuit of that right.
This process must begin with being virtuous leaders ourselves. This starts with a clear assessment of who we are through prayerful reflection, honest introspection, involvement with our own mentors, and feedback from our subordinates. Then continues, using all of these assets, to improve ourselves so that we can be virtuous role models for our followers, peers, and even superiors.
Virtuous leaders then must invest in the lives of our people – teaching knowledge, confronting and correcting problems, and training always. As the young leader’s abilities and character matures, we move to a more supportive and less directive role, but we must maintain our high level of engagement.
And, when the leader begins to stand on his or her own, we must also invest in perhaps the most important and most-often neglected skill: replication. The new leader must, through our example and our investment, learn to do likewise, to serve as an example and investor of virtuous leadership to the next generation.
It is only through this intensive engagement that we as leaders can create a true and lasting legacy.
Please join the conversation! Do you have a mentor who made a profound impact on your life? Have you passed on that impact to others? What do you think are the most important aspects of developing future leaders?