Next time you want to take the opportunity to reflect on how you are going as a leader, I suggest you try this.
Close your eyes and imagine you are observing your own funeral. Who would be delivering your eulogy and what would they say about you?
Probably, but there’s a reason for it. If you care about the legacy you will leave as a human being, then you will probably do things in your life that will help shape how people see you when you depart.
Your leadership legacy
As a leader you will also leave a legacy. Every leader leaves a legacy: good, bad or indifferent. If you want to, you can choose what your legacy will be and align your behaviour (how you act) to achieve this end.
Can you separate how you want to be as a leader from how you want to be as a person? Are they different things?
At Leading Teams, we like to get leaders thinking about their legacy, putting and effort into articulating it, and developing a plan that will bring them closer to achieving it. We call this a personal trademark.
A personal trademark identifies how you want others to see you. It can also be a useful filter when you are receiving feedback, as I do regularly from my clients and my team mates. It identifies strengths as well as areas for improvement; it contains affirmations to help me overcome these gaps; and, most importantly, it contains a plan to help me improve my performance.
Affirmations help to build belief and reviewing against your plan helps you to collect evidence. The combination of belief and evidence leads to improved performance when they are underpinned by honest and rigorous reviews.
For me, the personal trademark is a simple tool that I use regularly to plan (how do I want to be?) and to review (how did I go?). It can also be used as a safety net on your most challenging days.
Responsibility and resilience
My own personal trademark helped me on the most challenging day of my life.
In May 2015, I received a phone call that I can’t quite remember, but I will never forget.
I had just walked off the golf course in Bowral, NSW, on the afternoon before my mate’s wedding. As I put my clubs in the boot of the car my phone rang. At first when I didn’t recognise the number, I considered not answering it, but I did and it was Mike, our paediatrician in Geelong, near where we lived in Victoria.
The things I do remember from that phone call were Mike saying that “Gilbert’s (our two-year-old son) test results showed a reading several hundred times above the ‘normal’ level,” and I remember the words “muscular dystrophy”. I then had to conference call my wife with Mike and listen to her receive the news that I had only minutes before. The six hours it took me to get home to her were the most excruciating of my life.
We spent the next ten days at home with our boy trying to make sense of it all and holding him close.
The first session I had back at work with a client post Gilbert’s diagnosis was with an Executive Team that I hadn’t worked with before. Leaving home and flying to Newcastle was gut-wrenching and I had little sleep that night. I turned up early the next morning and as I was sitting in my rental car outside the building, preparing myself for the day, the wave of emotion hit me.
Panic…anxiety…I just had to get out of there. Every instinct in my body was telling me to run. Back to the airport, home to my wife, home to my boy. I sat there not knowing what to do, tears flowing; I was in a bad way.
And then I thought about my personal trademark. ‘Responsible’ is a component of it. What did responsible mean for me now? One of the affirmations that I had penned for myself was ‘I am a responsible leader because I choose how I react’.
I sat and thought, I breathed, I regained control.
I rang my wife and checked in. She encouraged me to be strong; her words were the extra assurance I needed. I got out of the car.
The CEO greeted me on the way in to the building and she immediately made me feel comfortable. I met the team and we had a productive day together. What could have been one of my worst days turned in to a day where I demonstrated to myself a new level of resilience, one I thought I didn’t have.
It’s a day I think about often when things aren’t going as well as they might. It’s my evidence.
My personal trademark has been a review tool, a safety net. It defines how I want to be seen as a leader, and most importantly how I want to be a as a person – a friend, a partner, a father. Can you separate leadership from these roles? I know I can’t.