Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: Building Legacy Leadership

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: Building Legacy Leadership

Article excerpt

Byline: Reg Birchfield

Turkey's increasingly egocentric Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently announced his intention to build a stunning new mosque on a prime Istanbul city site overlooking the Bosphorus. This grand edifice will rival the Blue Mosque built in the late 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent, then ruler of the vast Ottoman empire.

I was visiting Turkey while writing this column, hence the Erdogan reference. But it also provides a dramatic, if somewhat excessive, example of what I wanted to write about -- legacy leadership.

Every leader, great or gormless, leaves a legacy. It goes with the job. Some big name leaders, like former American President George W Bush, have left some doozies. Others, like Nelson Mandela, leave a legacy so profoundly exemplary that it defies description. Leaders of whatever scope or scale, leave a legacy that transcends them. It immortalises their contribution to the growth or decline of the specific task, organisation, institution or nation they lead.

Legacies define leaders. For that reason, good leaders start thinking about the legacy they prefer to leave early in their leadership tenure. As American leadership writers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote in their book A Leader's Legacy, thinking about legacy encourages leaders to think about today's actions in a larger context. As a consequence, leaders are forced to go beyond "the common practice of short-term thinking because legacies include the past, present and future".

Leaders can't escape leaving a legacy. Their daily decisions and actions ensure it. It is a moving feast that is revealed in the way others work for, or with, individual leaders. And because it is a serial script, wise leaders consider what they want people to remember about them and develop their leadership approach and style accordingly. Leaders' legacies are compiled through a collection of large and small actions, perceptions and promises fulfilled or forgotten.

Leadership and its travelling companion legacy is, more than anything, a way of thinking. It is grounded in self awareness and expressed through the fulfilment of individual hopes and intentions. Leaders mightn't always think about the impacts they have on others but, their followers do and they invariably have to live with the consequences. …

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