What’s Your Legacy?

Published on November 2, 2000

Here’s an exercise. If you were ask to seven people who depend on your leadership what they would remember you for, what do you think their answers would be? Would their answers be based on their perception of you as being self-centered or service focused?

The fact is there are many people who have made it in this world by being self- centered. Yet their legacy is probably not as powerful as it could have been had they conducted themselves by putting the welfare of the people they serve ahead of their own issues. Helping others get what they want in life is probably one of the most valuable things you can offer someone. Succeeding in this area will cement your legacy and leave a lasting image of what you meant to the people you now serve even long after the relationship has ended. Just ask Gordon Bethune (CEO of Continental Airlines) and Herb Kelleher (CEO of Southwest Airlines).

Gordon is known for transforming Continental from a candidate for bankruptcy in 1994 to one of the nation’s most profitable and admired airlines. As for Mr. Kelleher, his story is legendary. He built a rare, continuously profitable business with a unique concept founded on great service with employees and customers having a good time while charging low fares.

If you asked both of these gentlemen what their secret is behind their success, undoubtedly their answer would be their employees. They knew that if they created an environment where their employees could not wait to come to work, where they felt valued and were energized by what they do, everything else would fall into place. Energized employees create happy customers who handsomely reward shareholders. Disgruntled employees lead to miserable service that stymies customer loyalty, revenues and profits-while driving up costs for recruiting and retention of employees, and replacing lost customers. That’s the cost of poor leadership!

In your leadership style, what are you doing to energize the people who depend on your leadership? Are they energized to go out and do what it takes to make their customers satisfied? Do they feel valued for their efforts? Do they feel a high sense of self-accomplishment?

If your leadership style concentrates solely on the numbers and statistics and your personal need to look good, chances are you probably won’t be able to answer these questions in the affirmative. Certainly, good fiscal practices are crucial to business success. But in the end, success all boils down to the productivity of the people you depend on. Employees who merely go through the motions without commitment or energy simply cannot be as productive as people who enjoy their work and are proud of their employer.

As Mr. Bethune and Mr. Kelleher have proven, increased productivity is not solely produced by closely tracking the numbers. True productivity involves giving the employees everything they need to be successful- everything from superb training to their boss’s acknowledgement and encouragement to be the best they can be.

When your employees are energized to be the best they can be, you can’t help but increase your revenues, profits and shareholder value. And that’s when you wind up with results beyond your wildest dreams. Just ask the high flying Mr. Bethune and Mr. Kelleher.

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