Impactful leadership is key to organizational success. Every leader makes an impact, casting a shadow as they progress through an organization. But, as in real life, few leaders ever think about their shadow. Shadows can be positive or negative, long or short. There are far too many examples today of leaders who are casting long, negative shadows on those around them, making the world a far worse place than they found it. They act without integrity and are driven by short-termism and selfish often narcissistic intent. They fail to consider their impact on those around them. This not only undermines faith in their leadership, but trust and confidence in leaders and businesses more generally.
How can you help your organization commit to impactful leadership?
It is increasingly important that L&D professionals, coaches and mentors help leaders think through their desired impact and legacy. This relates to their “personal” as well as their “company’s” purpose. Ideally, do this while leaders are still in the early stages of their careers and learning what good leadership looks like.
This positive visioning provides clarity on a leader’s purpose and personal aspirations. It also builds a strong “true north” to guide a leader’s decisions and actions during their career.
However, legacy is a vague concept for leaders to get their heads around without some further prompts and guidance. So, we recommend using the following five questions to aid reflection and dialogue:
- What do you want to have achieved as a leader when you retire?
- What will co-workers, superiors (e.g., the C-suite or Board) and valued customers to be saying about the impact you’ve made on them as a leader?
- In what ways will your leadership have contributed to making the organization and world a better place?
- What new habits and skills will you have mastered by the time you retire?
- What life goals have you achieved outside of work that will enable you to lead a fulfilled and happy life?
We typically ask leaders, and emerging leaders, to consider another related question that provides some shorter-term perspective beyond these longer-term aspirations:
“What would you like to be saying about the difference you’ve made as a leader to a reporter from your favourite newspaper or publication in 5 years’ time?”
To ensure this valuable exercise is not left to gather dust after it has been undertaken, L&D professionals should use powerful new technologies like social learning platforms, learning apps, video capture, etc., to help leaders capture, share and action their aspirations and milestone goals. They can then revisit these on a frequent basis during development workshops and career dialogues to improve the likelihood of successful implementation and reinforce the commitment to act.
Of course, all leaders hit hurdles along the way to creating their positive legacy. Should you identify declining motivation with the leaders you are working with, here’s some advice on how to help them boost their motivation when it flags. And here’s some guidance on how to help great leaders be clear on their purpose and their brand.
About the Author
Founder and MD | Leadership Consultant | Organizational Psychologist
James is a leadership consultant, organizational psychologist and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams and organizations globally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He specializes in positive leadership, thriving workplaces, collaboration and influencing, organizational change and transformation, accelerating innovation and coaching executives and leaders in innovative sectors including Tech, Digital, E-commerce and Life Sciences.
Before setting up Plexus Leadership, James held leadership roles in HR and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as NatWest, Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. After this, he founded and led several talent and leadership consulting and assessment businesses, including Strengthscope®, an online strengths assessment and development business serving a wide range of UK and global clients. James grew this venture into a global market leader before selling the business in 2018.
James has supported, advised and coached leaders and teams globally across diverse industries and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, WSP and Yahoo!.
James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching and a Harvard Business qualification in Sustainable Business Strategy. He is a member of the Institute of Directors, the Association of Business Psychologists and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD). He is currently undertaking a PhD in Organizational Psychology examining the start-up experiences of Tech and Digital entrepreneurs.
James is a regular contributor and speaker on leadership, coaching, innovative talent management and the future of work. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can create thriving workplaces by inspiring and supporting people to optimize their potential and teamwork to deliver breakthrough results.