A Leader’s Legacy | Notes

Posted on July 27, 2012


Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner. A Leader’s Legacy. Wiley, 2006. (202 pages)


…leadership is everyone’s business. (3)

None of us are the sole inhabitants of our organizations or our communities — we do not live alone. …The legacy perspective explicitly reveals that we make a difference. Then the only question remaining to consider is, What kind of difference do I want to make? (4)

Thinking about legacies requires us to move beyond short-term definitions of success. (5)

Legacy thinking means dedicating ourselves to making a difference, not just working to achieve fame and fortune. (5)

Part One | Significance

Teaching is one way of serving. (10)

Speaking of the truth, for each individual, the most important leader in any organization is not the CEO or the head honcho; it’s the leader we see most often, the one we turn to when we need guidance and support. (11)

No one likes to be an assumption. (11)

1. Leaders Serve and Sacrifice

Being a leader brings with it a responsibility to do something of significance that makes families, communities, work organizations, nations, the environment, and the world better places than they are today. Not all these things can be quantified. (13)

“Who are the people I am really serving? Am I ready to suffer?” (13)

Only Leaders Who Serve Earn Commitment.

A loyal constituency is won when the people, consciously or unconsciously, judge the leader to be capable of solving their problems and meeting their needs. – John Gardner

The people’s choice to follow is based not simply upon authority but upon the leader’s perceived capacity to meet a need. (15)

…the great leader is seen as a servant first, and that simple fact is the key to [the leader’s] greatness. – Robert Greenleaf

The purpose of leaders is to mobilize others to serve a purpose. And if you’re here to serve a purpose, the purpose comes first. (17)

Passionate Leaders Are Willing to Suffer. If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to pay a price. By sacrificing, you demonstrate that you’re not in it for yourself. (18)

The most significant contributions leaders make are not to today’s bottom line but to the long-term development of individuals and institutions that adapt, prosper, and grow. People should never take on the job of leadership if they’re unwilling to see beyond their own needs. If they do, they will ultimately fail. (18)

We guarantee that what people will say about you will not be about what you achieved for yourself but what you achieved for others. Not how big a campfire you built but how well you kept others warm, how well you illuminated the night to make them feel safe, and how beautiful you left the campsite for those who would come after you to build the next fire. (19)

2. The Best Leaders Are Teachers

The best way to learn something is to teach someone else! – Fred Margolis

Lesson One: The Best Way to Learn Is to Teach. Each and every interaction you have with your associates can be framed as a learning opportunity for them — and for you. (23)

One of the most powerful legacies you can leave is to turn every person you lead, whether a manager or an individual contributor, into a teacher. (24)

Lesson Two: Legacies Are Passed on in the Stories We Tell. Each of us, whether we intend to or not, will become at some point a character in someone’s story. (25)

There are only two reasons great teachers know more than their students, and great leaders know more than their constituents. One, they’ve dedicated themselves to learning. Two, they love what they’re learning. Come to think of it, maybe that’s just one reason. (26)

3. We All Need Loving Critics

Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers. – John Gardner

The problem is that most leaders don’t want honest feedback, don’t ask for honest feedback, and don’t get much of it unless it’s forced on them. (28)

The higher up you go on the corporate ladder, the less likely it is that leaders will ask for feedback. (28)

There’s solid evidence that the best leaders are highly attuned to what’s going on inside themselves as they are leading and to what’s going on with others. They’re very self-aware and they’re very socially aware. (29)

If you’re the leader you’re already dancing naked on the table, so no use pretending you’re wearing clothes. (32)

4. You Are the Most Important Leader in Your Organization

…the single best predictor of career success is the relationship they had with their very first supervisor. 934)

The leaders who have the most influence on us are those who are closest to us. (35)

You Matter. There is a 100 percent chance that you will make a difference in other people’s lives. (37)

When it comes to leading, you have to take responsibility for the quality of leadership your constituents get. (37)

Don’t worry. We humans are amazingly resilient. We can recover from a few losses from a few losses. We can return from a few setbacks. We can take the bad news. What  we can’t stand is phoniness and pretension. What we won’t suffer are the artificialities of leaders who are only making believe. What we don’t respect is a poser. What we don’t like is indecisiveness and game playing. (39)

5. No One Likes to Be an Assumption

Not expressing appreciation to others is equivalent to making them invisible. (40)

There are few if any needs more basic than to be noticed, recognized, and appreciated for our efforts. (44)

A leader’s legacy is really the legacy of many. (45)

Part Two | Relationships

Leadership is a relationship. It’s a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. (48)

Human history tells us something extremely important about human relationships. it tells us that people want to be free. People want to decide things for themselves. People want to shape their own destiny. People want to be in charge of their own lives. The most enduring leadership legacies are those of leaders who have set their people free. (49)

6. Leadership Is Personal

We’re all just more reluctant to follow people if they’re unwilling to tell us about themselves. We start to become a little suspicious. We’re less willing to trust. (51)

What one person has to offer another is their own being, nothing more and nothing less. – Ram Dass

7. Leaders Should Want to Be Liked

I contend…that all other things being equal we will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we will like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel. – Irwin Federman

Love is definitely not too strong a word to use for how the best leaders feel about their constituents and how their constituents feel about these leaders. (58)

Our research, and practically everyone else’s on the subject, clearly shows that people perform significantly more effectively when their leaders treat them with dignity and respect, listen to them, support them, recognize them, make them feel important, build their skills, and how confidence in them. Likability is a major factor in being successful in just about every endeavor in life. (58)

8. When You Don’t See Eye to Eye, Seek to Understand

Whenever you find yourself in a serious conflict with someone, ask yourself, “What is it that I need to learn? What is this person or situation trying to teach me?” (64)

The Only Person You Can Change Is You. Being able to relate the conflict to specific issues and to keep from taking it personally is essential. (66)

Focus on the Purpose and Not the Person. We can find ourselves in agreement with the same ends as others, even while we find ourselves in disagreement about the possible paths to that future. (66-67)

Promote Constructive Insubordination. It’s been said that “if both of us are always agreeing, then one of us is redundant… To test this notion researchers asked fifty groups of students to solve a murder mystery. They found that groups of people who had the most diverse social backgrounds and experiences were the most likely to solve the case. Not only were homogeneous groups more likely to be wrong, they were also more likely to express greater confidence in their answers despite being wrong (68)

The legacy that comes from difficult conversations will be far more creative and sustaining than ones that come from people who always see eye to eye. (70)

9. You Can’t Take Trust for Granted

Trust ist he social glue that binds human relationships. (71)

You Can’t Take Trust For Granted. Indeed, one of the top impediments to career success is the inability to trust others. (76)

10. Let Your People Go

Freedom, for some, conjures up visions of anarchy. But the opposite is actually the case. The more you control others, the more likely it is that they will rebel. Exemplary leaders have repeatedly told us that they get the greatest commitment precisely when they let their people go. (79)

No One Wants a Micromanager. Freedom means having a choice. (82)

Give People Freedom of Choice. …tap into people’s natural drive for autonomy. (82)

…when Fortune magazine reviewed recent notable failures of corporate leaders, the culprit wasn’t the leaders’ vision but the lack of commitment by others in the execution. (83)

Choice is the glue that binds individuals to actions, motivating them to accept responsibility. (84)

Personal Responsibility. In personally choosing to act, individuals are saying explicitly or implicitly, “I will accept the consequences of my actions.” (86)

Part Three | Aspirations

People commit to causes, not to plans. Commitment is fueled by what we cherish. (90) …That means that leadership development is first and foremost self-development. …Leaders must decide on what matters in life, before they can live a life that matters. | Leaders are expected to look into the future, to gaze across the time horizon and communicate to us what they see. It’s not about being prescient or clairvoyant. It’s about being discerning and perceptive. It’s about noticing what’s around the corner. (90)

Leadership isn’t about selling your vision; it’s about articulating the people’s vision. (91)

Leadership is a common area that’s accessible to everyone. (91)

11. Lead from the Inside Out

Inside-out leadership means becoming the author of your own story and the maker of your own history. | All serious leadership starts from within. (92)

Leadership Begins When Something Grabs Hold of Us. Leadership begins with something that grabs hold of us and won’t let go. And this “something” will only be found when we are willing to take a journey through our inner territory — a journey that often requires opening doors that are shut, walking in dark spaces that are frightening, and touching the flame that burns. But at the end is truth. (96)

Clarity of Values Builds Solid Support. When these values are matched by our deeds, we’ve earned the credibility required for others to put their trust in us… (97)

The techniques and tools that fill the pages of management and leadership books are not substitutes for who an what we are. (97)

Developing leadership capacity …is about leading out of what is already in your soul. it’s about liberating the leader within you. It’s about setting yourself free. It’s about putting your ear to your heart and just listening. (98)

12. Forward-Looking Is a Leadership Prerequisite

Leaders…are the custodians of the future. (99)

If there’s reliable evidence and general consensus that it’s so important for leaders to articulate a vision and get others excited about it, why do leaders do so poorly at it? …why are we still struggling after so many years to develop this capacity in leaders — and what can we do about it? (100)

We’re Hostage to the Present. …most leaders feel overworked. (101) How can we possibly be more forward-looking when we’re driving under the influence of all these pressures? (102)

Pay More Attention. …none of the pressures that hold you hostage are going to go away. (102) …the best place to start creating the future is by being more mindful in the present. …Stop being in motion. (103)

Explore Future Possibilities.

13. It’s Not Just the Leader’s Vision

What people really want to hear is not the leader’s vision. They want to hear about their own aspirations. (108)

You have to stop seeing it [leadership] as a monologue, and you have to start engaging others in a collective dialogue about the future. (110) Do you see that these statements are about us and not me, we and not I? (111)

Getting others excited about future possibilities is …about intimacy. It’s about familiarity. It’s about empathy. [It] requires understanding constituents at a much deeper level than we normally find comfortable. (112)

14. Liberate the Leader in Everyone

None of us knows our true strength until challenged to bring it forth. (117)

Leadership Is Learned. It’s pure myth that only a lucky few can ever understand the mystery of leadership. …The truth is that leadership is an observable set of skills and abilities that are useful whether one is in the executive suite or on the front line, on Wall Street or Main Street. And any skill can be strengthened, honed, and enhanced if we have the motivation and desire, practice, and get coaching and feedback. (118)

In dispelling this myth about leadership being the promise of a select and divine few or that people are hard-wired for leadership you have to set aside the notion that leadership requires a certain personality type. (119)

15. Leaders Are Followers, Too!

…the best leaders are self-aware enough to realize their limitations and secure enough to know they can let go of control and let others take charge. (122)

We Follow a Process and Not a Person. Too often the word follower is used pejoratively… (123)

Leaders Follow.

You Don’t Have to Be the Leader to Lead.

Part Four | Courage

16. There’s Courage in All of Us

Courage Is a State of Mind. …the disposition that gives one the capacity to face danger without being overcome by fear. It’s the capacity to persist under highly adverse circumstances. It’s not about being fearless so much as it is the ability to control fear. (136)

The Greeks also believed that courage wasn’t a purely emotional experience — what many call guts. Courage, they said, had a rational component. (136) …courage is a state of mind. (137)

Everyone Has Moments of Courage. Everyone could recall at least one moment in their own lives when they had the mental and moral strength to sustain initiate in a challenging circumstance. Courage is not just for heroes after all. (138)

It seems to us that we humans call upon our courage when…

  • Our lives present some significant challenge, and
  • We feel fear when facing this adversity, and
  • It requires personal initiative to overcome th fear and the challenge, and
  • Something personally meaningful is at stake, and
  • We might suffer loss in the process, and
  • We have hope, and
  • Our life is transformed by the experience.

Leadership is courage in action. (140)

17. You Can’t Plan to Be Courageous, But You Can Choose It

Conversation 1. Adversities. All acts of courage are associated with adversity and hardship. Severe challenge is always the context surrounding moments of courage. (143)

Moments of courage are moments of truth. (144)

Conversation 2. Fears. The courage point is where fear meets danger. it’s that intersection that we need to explore. (146)

Conversation 3. Suffering. Before we can act with great courage we have to be mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to make sacrifices. (147)

18. It Takes Courage to Make a Life

Lesson One: Little Acts Can Have Huge Impact.

Lesson Two: One Person Can Make a Difference.

Lesson Three: Courageous Acts Flow from Beliefs. “I didn’t get on the bus that day to get arrested. I got on the bus to go home. …It’s funny to me how people came to believe that the reason I did no move from my seat was that my feet were tired. My feet were not tired, but I was tired of unfair treatment.” – Rosa Parks, Quiet Strength. (151)

19. The Courage to Be Human

The words human and humble share a common origin. They both come from the Latin humus, meaning earth. To be human and humble is to be down-to-earth, both feet planted firmly on the ground. (156)
You will never, ever find, in historic or present times, even one example of a leader who controlled every aspect of the environment. And you’ll never find an example of a leader who enlisted 100 percent of the constituents in even the most compelling of future possibilities. (158)

…the Achilles’ heel of leaders can be found when they

  • Believe they know it all.
  • Believe they are in charge.
  • Believe the rules don’t apply to them.
  • Believe they will never fail.
  • Believe they did it all by themselves.
  • Believe they are better than the “little people.”
  • Believe they are the organization.
  • Believe they can focus everything on the job.

The Need for More Grace in the Workplace. Humility and grace make up the antidote to the poison of excessive pride and the rapacious harm that it does to our lives. (162)

20. Failure Is Always an Option

Life is our laboratory, and we ought to use it to conduct as many experiments as possible. (168)

21. No Money-Back Guarantee

That’s the messy reality of leadership. Sometime,s despite our very best efforts and our very best intentions, we don’t succeed. (171)

Strengths Can Become Weaknesses. Any leadership practice can become destructive. Virtues can become vices. Strengths can become weaknesses. (172)

So What Should We Do? If perfection is not the leadership ideal, what is? | The answer is being more of who we are. (175)

Afterword: The Legacy You Leave Is the Life You Lead

Each day provides countless chances to make a difference. …There are many moments each day when you can choose to lead and many moments each day when you can choose to make a difference. Each of these moments serves up the prospect of contributing to a lasting legacy. (178)

Leading is not about what we gain from others but about what others gain from us. (178)

Contrary to what you may have been told before, leaders should want to be liked. (179)

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in life: those who make things happen and those who wonder what happened. – John Maxwell

What you do with the future means the difference between leaving a track record and leaving a legacy. – John Maxwell