If 100 business executives were asked what they considered the characteristics of a good leader, they probably would provide 100 very different answers. But in terms of leaving a lasting legacy, it seems a mark of the best leaders is what remains after they have departed from the scene.
Strong-minded, determined and driven leaders often can “make things happen,” willing their visions and dreams into reality. But a better measure of leadership manifests itself after they leave. How well they have led those under their charge is revealed by what remains.
In his excellent book, Good to Great, Jim Collins states the best leaders “want to see their companies even more successful in the next generation, comfortable with the idea that most people won’t even know that the roots of that success trace back to their efforts.”
Collins also described “not-as-great” leaders. He said, “…concerned about their own reputation for personal greatness, (they) often failed to set the company up for success in the next generation. After all, what better testament to your own personal greatness than that the place falls apart after you leave?”
It is interesting to consider how the departure of two iconic business leaders affected cutting-edge enterprises they founded. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc., died in October 2011. His vision, creativity and personal magnetism built Apple into the most innovative company of its time. After Jobs and Apple parted ways in the late ‘80s, the business stumbled mightily until he returned years later.
Since his death, Apple again has struggled somewhat, and some experts wonder whether it will ever regain the stature it enjoyed under Jobs. Will it still become “more successful in the next generation”?
This is not to diminish Jobs’ accomplishments, but not all leaders have the same long-range impact.
In 1982, Al Neuharth’s visionary thinking spawned USA Today, the country’s first national newspaper. Time confirmed there was a ready market for it, and he capitalized on emerging technology to facilitate publication of the newspaper from coast to coast. When Neuharth died several months ago, at the age of 89, his legacy was set. After his daily involvement had ended, USA Today became entrenched as a media and communications institution, fulfilling the “more successful in the next generation” description.
The Bible gives numerous examples of “next generation” thinking. Moses passed the baton to Joshua, and Elijah literally passes his mantle to Elisha. The greatest example is Jesus Christ, who entrusted His mission to a small band of disciples. Today, countless millions have become faithful followers of Jesus.
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Jesus gave His followers a simple vision: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Clearly they were faithful to their calling, their mission’s success now extending through countless generations.
In your workplace, are leaders casting and modeling vision to be embraced by generations to come?
Robert J. Tamasy is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. A veteran journalist, he has written Tufting Legacies (iUniverse); Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace (River City Press); and has coauthored with David A. Stoddard, The Heart of Mentoring (NavPress). For more information, see www.leaderslegacy.com or his blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.comand www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com.
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1. How would you describe the traits of a very effective leader?
2. Do you agree with the statement that a true measure of a leader’s success is what remains after he or she is no longer filling that role? Why or why not?
3. Have you ever experienced a situation where a company or organization became too dependent on its leader – skill, expertise, even charisma – and that person’s eventual departure had a dramatic, negative effect on its future? How do you think that could be avoided?
4. Why do you think, more than 2,000 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the movement of Christianity shows no signs of going away? What role has leadership played in this, in your opinion?
NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to read more about this subject, consider the following passages: 2 Kings 2:1-15; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-49;John 20:19-29; 2 Timothy 2:2