The Leadership Legacy Mindset: lessons from observing leaders

Leadership legacy

leading from the front

Political leaders, social leaders, business leaders, have a decision to make. What after they have achieved all their professional and personal goals? Most try to do more of the same, perhaps in the hope that what worked well before will lead to better results with greater efficiency and execution.

A few, however, reflect on what their success meant in the context in which it was achieved, and deliberate on what can create a sustainable road for their organisation, company, or even belief system.

In other words, what is the Leadership Legacy that remains embedded within the minds, beliefs, operations and Eco-systems long after they have exited.

I call this the Leadership Legacy mindset. And I find many, many successful leaders wondering about the secret recipe to ignite the imagination, drive the execution and create a belief system that sustains organisations, teams and Eco-systems.

Some others, on the other hand, have a well thought out path to progress. Take, for instance, M.K. Gandhi, the mahatma who created the doctrine of non-violence as a collective action for protest. While his execution focus was clearly on winning India her independence from British colonial rule, his conviction in his approach found him commenting on the Russian Bolshevik revolution, Germany’s fascination with Nazis, as well as the means and methods adopted by the Allied powers in winning World War 2.

And while in a famous exchange of letters, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, urged Gandhi to take the world on the path of non-violence, Gandhi, always a practical man, reverted with his belief, that his role was primarily in the context he was familiar with, leaving his doctrine to be followed successfully globally by leaders like Martin Luther King jr. and Nelson Mandela, amongst thousand others.The doctrine and approach is Gandhian, the flavour can be as local and adaptive as possible.

For business leaders, in a corporate context, the legacy mindset is typically surrounded by a set of goals, or value systems which sustain beyond them. For instance, Steve Jobs’ in his biography by Walter Isaacson, is found agonising about the Apple culture, an approach to innovative thinking in personal mobile computing lifestyle, which made the company and him an icon in his life time. I would like to have taken the names of ‘neutron’ Jack Welch or even the original BMOC ( Big Man On Campus) Lee Iacocca in the same breath, but I can’t.

The reason is simple, while both these leaders were iconic in their own way, none of them created a sustainable legacy which took their organisations, teams, or even industry Eco-systems from strength to strength. And the jury is out on Jobs as well!

Closer home in India, we do hear similar stories, but the one which catches the imagination is the leadership legacy of J R D Tata, and the reason is simple. In each and every instance, the key message that stands out is a story of contributing to building a nation. What are you doing today that means something to every life in your context? I wrote a tribute to the Late Russi Mody last week, recalling a series of interviews I did with him in the early 90’s, and what stood out was the footprint that JRD had embedded in the Tata organisations and its impact on the next set of leaders.

When you view legacy from this prism, people such as Charles Schwab, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and J. P. Morgan stand out as folks who envisaged their enterprises contributing to a nation by becoming relevant to the man on the street. Perhaps, the leaders of the computing and Internet era would also be viewed in similar lines. For instance, Bill Gates at Microsoft, or even the partnerships such as Hewlett and Packard, or Page and Brin at Google.

But truth be told, these visionaries will be remembered for, in the application of their doctrines, a set of values, beliefs and behaviours that are applicable beyond the context of their discovery. Bill Gates is already doing that in the world of healthcare and learning, the Google founders have already marked their footprint in home and health space. But am equally certain that without this mindset, founders and CEO’s are likely to disappear into the mounds of public records as the world discovers new ideas to explore and follow.

The next question is the set of behaviours, the meme-s these leaders create which are picked up by folks around them, and the mythology that connects with people.

If Gandhi hadn’t been thrown off a train, would his story of self transformation  and the discovery of non-violence as a protest method been as effective. Similarly, had Gandhi not been a great organiser would he have been able to coax, cajole, convince and corral people around him to participate in the rallies, protests, and fasts?


Firstly, as a leader you need to articulate your doctrine which can be learned by everyone.

Secondly, your success in execution will determine others attempting to follow. 

 And Thirdly, and most importantly, making your success principles easy to imbibe and follow.

what is your Leadership Legacy?

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