Thursday, May 24, 2012

Your legacy as a leader is the people you leave behind

Too often as leaders we think our legacy is what we accomplish in our role....the degree to which we meet our business targets, a reorganization, a strategic initiative, completion of a successful project, securing a big contract.  Clearly these are important accomplishments.  That said, I believe the legacy to the organization isn't the accomplishment of tasks and missions but the people the leader leaves behind.  I argue this demands that the leader needs to take a personal interest in their development.

What does "take a personal interest in their development" mean in practice?  First, it means having a plan.  I believe everyone needs an individual development plan that's agreed at the beginning of each year and reviewed at least once.  It needs to be separate but related to the performance appraisal.  Second, it means in-role assignments to build skill or capability.  Sometimes it means taking chances in selecting people for new roles....ones in which they haven't "checked every competency box" or had the ideal set of preparatory assignments.  It also means balancing challenge and support...sometimes referred to as "tough love".  You want to support and reinforce strengths AND challenge.  Often taking a personal interest in their development means letting a trusted team member go to another part of the organization, even though it creates a hole in your own.  One of my most satisfying accomplishments in Shell was when a person I identified with high potential in 2002 replaced me when I retired in 2011.  I was able to advocate for his promotion and a series of development assignments over nine years that lead to his selection.  I did this not specifically planning for him to replace me, but believed he would be able to make broad contributions given the right development path.  Specific skill or knowledge gaps can be addressed by formal courses or training.  I mention this last because too often "sending someone to a course" is a lazy way of addressing development needs.  To be sure there are times when formal training is the correct solution to a specific development need, but formal training needs to be just one tool in the kit....not the "silver bullet" to every need.

My last point is that the development of others shouldn't be confined to the leader's direct reports.  Spending time with the development of those two levels down in the organization....the reports of your direct reports is part of a robust approach to developing others.

The approach I'm suggesting takes time and time is precious to every leader.  This demands that the leader be disciplined about priorities and ensure "time on the diary" is dedicated to the development of others.


  1. Scott, Thank you for this, fully with you!

    1. Thanks Bruno. You are one of those I've enjoyed watching grow and develop as a leader. I hope I played some small role in that journey.