This semester, my Introduction to Leadership Education class was divided into groups to read and analyze a leadership text. My group was assigned the book “A Leader’s Legacy” by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. We identified the four major themes of the book which were Significance, Relationships, Aspirations, and Courage. Each theme encompassed several different topics describing how it relates back to the main idea that leaders should ask themselves what they want their legacy to be and how they can leave the world a better place.
In order for someone to leave a lasting legacy they must live a significant life. Living a significant life means serving others and triumphing in others’ successes. One way of serving is teaching and passing along lessons learned from experiences. Teaching is also learning and often times, while a leader is helping develop others they are developing themselves as well. In order to learn, one must ask for feedback. The authors of the book proved a good point: Most leaders don’t ask. It’s easy for leaders to assume they have all their ducks in a row and they couldn’t possibly improve on anything, but if leaders embrace their critics and realize they aren’t perfect they’re able to gain valuable insight on how they could improve their community. I learned that the CEO or head honcho is not the most important leader in an organization. The most important leader is the person we see most often and the person we turn to first for advice. This opened my eyes to see that no matter what my title is, I am the most important leader to the people who look to me. Leaving a significant legacy is not singular. “A leader’s legacy is the legacy of many,” (Kouzes, Posner 11), no one ever accomplished anything extraordinary alone.
This was the most interesting and inspiring theme to me. First things first, leadership is a relationship. It’s a relationship between people who aspire to lead and people who choose to follow. Leadership requires engaging others. Leaders must know their followers on a deeper, personal level learning of their motives, interests, deepest fears, and highest aspirations. Leaders must also be willing to let their guard down to reveal their true self. This exchange of being vulnerable allows for trust to be established which is essential in any relationship. One thing that hit me like a train is that leaders should want to be liked. I would always say “I don’t care if people don’t like me. I don’t need others’ approval to feel validated,” but the thing is, not caring whether people like you or not will never bring the best results. The leaders that we would bust our butts for are not the leaders we hated. The leaders we want to follow are the leaders whom we genuinely like. And even if followers and leaders don’t always see eye to eye there still needs to be that trust and respect that hold the relationship together. One last thing that this theme of relationships focused on was freedom. Leaders must be able to let their people be free. People want to decide things for themselves and be in charge of their own lives, no one likes a micro-manger. Once a leader can let his or her people go, they will allow for their legacy to live through those they free.
“A lasting legacy is built on a firm foundation of principles and purpose,” (Kouzes, Posner 90). Leaders are expected to look into the future and decide on what matters in life. This doesn’t mean that leaders are supposed to be psychic, but in order leave something meaningful behind the leader must forward-looking into what their inheritors want and what they aspire to achieve. It’s not the leader’s personal vision or dream that matters, it’s the entire community’s vision, as a whole, that matters. Leadership is a common area where anyone can and should lead. People want to feel included in the process, they want to see themselves in the picture of the future.
Being a leader is not easy. It can be nerve wracking sometimes to stand up boldly for what matters. It’s not just outward courage that can be difficult, personal courage can be a huge struggle as well. I know for myself, I used to be conservative with my dreams and values. I thought so little of myself that I couldn’t possibly make THAT much of a difference. “A Leader’s Legacy” taught me that small acts go a long way and that there is no success without failure. Moments of courage are where we learn about ourselves and what we’re capable of. But sometimes, trying your hardest can still not be enough. And that’s okay because some forces will always be outside of your control. What’s great is that each day brings new opportunities to make a difference is someone’s life.
Our group decided that we wanted to go out into our campus and ask people what they want their legacy to be. We were also interested in the steps they were going to take in order to leave that legacy. You can click here to view the video, but what we found was that you don’t have to be a hero to leave a lasting legacy. It’s as simple as smiling to someone in the hall that could create a chain affect of endless positivity. People’s legacies also tend to be personal and specific to what they’ve experienced in their life.
Thinking about a leader’s legacy was extremely uplifting and forced me to think about my actions in a larger context. It required me to think about appreciating others, taking responsibility for my actions, realizing my actions’ consequences, and moving beyond short-term definitions of success. “Legacy thinking means dedicating ourselves to making a difference, not just working to achieve fame and fortune,” (Kouzes, Posner 5). The main question we must ask ourselves when thinking about our legacies is, What kind of difference do I want to make? This also means recognizing and appreciating that others will inherit what we leave behind. Keeping my legacy in mind, I will live each day knowing that I matter and I have the opportunity to make a change as I walk my path to greatness.