When looking at the organisation you lead, what is it that you, as its leader, want to see? Do you really just want to watch ever growing market share and high profitability or is it more about seeing your own passion and values reflected back at you from every pore? With reputations increasingly under the global spotlight, modern CEOs must consider whether their leadership (and resulting legacy) is both authentic and enduring. If not, are you simply acting the part? Criticaleye asked its Community of Members what ‘Leader’s Legacy’ means to them.

As a leader, what do you want your legacy to be? Should it be more purpose than profit? Arguably the most significant contributions leaders are required to make are not to the bottom line but to the nourishment of communities, individuals and institutions in order that they can adapt, prosper and grow. When reflecting on your leadership, you should be able to:
  • Constantly challenge what success looks like
  • Know how to balance managing by influence and managing by authority
  • Build more leaders, not followers - plan and train successors and position others to succeed
  • Price true long-term costs and ‘externality’, ie cost of capital plus carbon

In the end, a long hard look at your organisation will tell you whether your leadership style has been consistent with who you are and your own DNA. To do this you must first decide whether you ‘know yourself’ and, second, ask whether your organisation genuinely reflects ‘you’. Criticaleye asked its Community of Members what ‘Leader’s Legacy’ means to them.

“The main thing for a leader is that they can be themselves and be driven by an inner compass and guidance that is more important than anything else”, says Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever. “If your values – your personal values – are aligned with the company’s values, you’re probably going to be more successful longer term than if they are not. If they are not aligned, then you are simply acting the role, not living it. I would hate to be remembered for building market share, but rather for making a difference in society.”

Darryl Eales, CEO, Lloyds Development Capital, says: “The critical thing about being a CEO is to know yourself; you must also know in your heart that you want to lead and be sure that your interests are absolutely in line with those of your company. If that is the case, then people will generally follow you; if they doubt your motives, then they generally won’t. You can only lead people if they choose to follow, so I don’t think you can be told that you are the leader – you either are or you aren’t. The thing that occupies me more than anything else is how to build a sustainable business – one with a clear succession. In every business, a key role of the CEO should be to consider the long-term strategic objectives for the business and, within this, how to develop a team that can maintain the growth of the business when the incumbent moves on.”

Helen Alexander, the President of the CBI, agrees: “A leader's legacy lies in the change they have effected - change that keeps the organisation vibrant and healthy. It should be change that is in tune with the environment inside and outside, so that the firm is well-positioned for the long-term. But it's also necessary to have the talented people who can take the firm on to the next stage; that means finding the best people, developing them, and being clear about the succession after you.”

How you shape your organisation internally, and whether you have the respect of its people, goes a long way towards preserving its condition for your successors. The organisation that you steward should also be sufficiently robust to weather recessionary storms or any other external influences.

“Markets can be benign, booming or collapsing, and leaders have the task of finding the right path through whatever the external environment brings,” agrees John Whybrow, Chairman of Wolseley plc. “It may be the maintenance of an internal culture of finding solutions locally through to giving strong direction in identifying and exploiting opportunities corporately - even though significant costs may need be removed. In good times, they need to ensure confidence does not turn to arrogance. Leaders should leave an organisation feeling proud of what is being achieved, no matter what the external environment.”

Alan Parker, CEO, Whitbread plc, says that “a CEO’s role is to create the environment in which his or her team can deliver high performance and the foundations for long-term success. In the end, everything comes down to one thing: people. It's about listening to customers, building relationships with stakeholders, understanding motivation and creating the right culture for employees to flourish. No one prepares you for when you become a CEO and, at Whitbread, I had to take some tough decisions, particularly in the early days. As I retire, I am most proud of how the team has created the well positioned company it is today, with customer focus at its heart and exciting opportunities for future growth.”

When evaluating your legacy, consider that people tend to follow brands and leaders based on whether or not they relate to and respect their values. Ultimately, you should ask yourself: Are my values aligned with the values of the organisation? Am I respected? Am I proud of the people, brand and motivations that I have strived to create? If you cannot answer those questions to your satisfaction, perhaps you need to reassess the legacy you have (consciously or subconsciously) begun to build.

In his upcoming article ‘A Leader’s Legacy – Are You Fit for Purpose’, Charlie Wagstaff, MD and Co-Founder of Criticaleye, challenges leaders to answer those questions by testing whether they are genuinely transparent, energised and confident in their conviction. He says: “Your leadership style must be consistent with who you are, which means being authentic. You should act in a manner consistent with a strong personal values system and ensure that this is understood and evident across the entire organisation. So understand what it is that you are passionate about because when you look at your organisation, you are really looking at a reflection of yourself.”

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here. 
I hope to see you soon,