How to multiply your value-adding impact? 

How are you increasing the wealth of  your imprint as a leader?

We all want our life to have impact.  As a start-up CEO, you have put your money, blood, sweat, and tears on the line to make a positive imprint on the world.

What does your influence look like on your managers?  What will their imprint be on your larger team?

Of course, we will look at performance results: growth in sales, profitability, and company valuation.

Financial results are necessary yet insufficient to qualify us as an inspiring leader.

What is your graffiti, your leadership legacy?  What will it sound like:

  • “She makes it that I want to follow her and be part of her vision.”
  • “He draws out the best me and in each of us.”


  • “His is one of the most brilliant people I know. Too bad he crushed so many folk along the way.”
  • “I am sure I could a lot from her. But at what cost?  Look at the string of burnouts among her past employees.”

Start-up CEOs like you have the potential of creating a multiplier effect.  Since your team remains human size, your personal impact is huge.

We often think of impact in the here and now. “I want to be recognized NOW for my input and impact.”

Leadership Legacy

Impact as Leadership Legacy

What if impact were something we transmit?  Like a heritage we pass onto our team members and the managers we are currently developing.

What if impact were something we transmit?  Like a heritage we pass onto our team.

This post is in memory of my father who passed away a year ago this week.  He led an illustrious career as Managing Director for McKinsey & Co consultants worldwide, professor at Harvard Business School, US Ambassador for World Trade, and as acting Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter.

You can bet he left an imprint on my life as well as that of many others.

Multiple dimensions to your leadership legacy

Before getting into the specifics of what my father’s graffiti entails (in the upcoming posts), let me share a framework on legacy that gives clarity to the multiple dimensions of legacy, impact, and imprint.

To explore this framework, please play along 😉 with me.  Let’s do a word matching exercise.

Think of the first word that pops into your mind when I give you the cue.

It is a bit complex to create interactivity on this post, so, below you’ll find the word and how others responded (in italics).

  • Summer – Beach. Vacation
  • Blue – Red. Sky
  • Birthday – Cake. Presents
  • Impact – Power. My start-up (!!!)
  • Legacy – Will. Money

Legacy usually conjures up notions of death and of tangible assets.

In this post, let us think wider.

Let us explore intangible assets.

Let us also consider losses. Some of us inherit debts to pay off.

Tangible and Intangible Leadership Legacy

Physical assets are easy to pass on.  We change the title of ownership and voilà!

Similarly, financial KPI’s of a start-up tend to be clear cut.  Revenue. Profit. Pipeline. Customer base. Churn. Acquisition cost. N° of employees…

And yet, the value of a company lies far deeper than the financial results.  Corporate culture plays a vital and significant role.

Instilling a culture that facilitates right decision-making is why CEOs strategize over ways to translate their values into actions, habits, and processes.  Inspirational posters are nice, but on their own they hold no power to inspire and ignite innovation and engagement.

Cultural values need to be lived out.  A person’s intangible legacy stems from the way she/he acts daily.

It’s worth repeating.

A person’s intangible legacy stems from the way she/he acts daily.

Leadership Legacy Framework

This framework from Gordon MacDonald’s book, When Men Think Private Thoughts, gives a structure to be intentional in creating and receiving a rich intangible legacy.

In addition to the financial legacy, MacDonald enumerates six others:

  • Legacy of challenge
  • Legacy of affirmation
  • Legacy of memories
  • Legacy of soul
  • Legacy of insight
  • Legacy of a modelled life

Let’s take a look at each and see how they apply to role of manager.

Leadership legacy of challenge

In my training program, one of our very first activities we do is to set up our GPS.  I invite the young managers who participate to make two lists:

  • List 1 – the behaviors of others that are difficult to tolerate
  • List 2 – the skills and capabilities they would like their team members to acquire and demonstrate

Invariably young managers mention how frustrated they are when they confront a person who is satisfied with the status quo or with doing enough to get by.

They want their team members to aim higher.

How are you and I transmitting the hunger for excellence?  Not perfectionism, but for doing the most with what we have.  For stepping beyond our comfort zone?

This legacy of challenge gets transmitted through conversations.  I have noticed two primary approaches to handle these exchanges.

  • Approach 1 – Challenge of “go for more”
    We focus on the opportunity and use questions such as,  “What if…?  What would it take to ….?”
  • Approach 2 – Challenge of “don’t be less”
    We focus on weaknesses. Often an approached used in schools and sometimes management circles.  “I can’t believe this is all you did.”

Which style do you use?

Dr. Jane Nelsen, a leading educator and founder of the approach Positive Discipline, remarks that people perform better when they feel better.  And yet, when faced with lackluster performance, many of us criticize.

In her words,

“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make (people perform) better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly.”

Your and my legacy of challenge depends on the way we motivate for improved performance.  Whether and how we set stretch goals.

Over the years I learned that a great legacy of challenge includes BOTH setting sights high AND providing the climate to make it safer to take risks.

Not safe.  (By definition, risk-taking is not safe.) Less treacherous.  Creating a place where one can learn from mistakes.  The assurance that when our failure is exposed, we will not get killed.  We will even find a helping and insistent hand to get up, to learn from the experience, and to try again.

Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard Business School, elaborates extensively on this psychological safety in her book, The Fearless Organization.

In this post, I devoted considerable attention to this legacy of challenge both because of the importance for start-up CEOs in motivating your teams…and because this is where I excel.

In the 1st time manager training program “Become the Manager You Dream of Having”, we begin with a one-on-one goal setting session whose purpose is to think big…and then set specific, measurable action steps to reach those ambitious…and doable goals.

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Grow !

G.R.O.W. !!!

Leadership legacy of affirmation

Affirmation is the art of identifying and confirming a person’s strengths.

Unfortunately, an American tendency of being over-positive without substance gives affirmation a bad rap.  When everything is awesome…well, nothing is.

In reaction to the above stereotype, French folk assert, “I say the truth,” implying that focusing on faults is the sole reality.

The truth is that we all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses.  We can choose on what we will focus and it will determine whether our legacy of affirmation represents riches, or we leave people broke or lacking.

Peter Drucker, leadership guru, posits

“The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant.”

Identifying and expressing strengths sounds easier than it is.  Many of us, and 1st time managers are especially prone to this, get caught up in the moment, in the urgent vs. the important.  The urgent focuses on reducing pain. On fixing what is bent or broke.

Affirming someone else’s strength takes effort and intentionality.  As with anything, when we first try to share a strength, it feels awkward and possibly fake.

I would much prefer hearing a clumsy attempt at recognizing strenghts to nothing at all.  How about you?

“Euuuuh, welllllll. I have to admit that I learn from you.  I know I act frustrated in meetings with you because discussions can go on and on but you really make us think about topics from a different perspective.  In the end, it does helps us make better decisions. Thank you.”

Awkward? Yes.

Impactful?  YES!

Leadership legacy of memories

Play again with me.

Picture birthday.  What do you recall?  Cake, candles, smiles, balloons, presents and fun. 🎂😃

Picture meetings.  What comes to mind?  Boring? Wasted time? 😴  … or Productive! 👏

The legacy of memories centers around our shared moments and routines and rituals.  These include exceptional events as well as day to day interactions.

In a couple this means how we celebrate our anniversary as well as how we stay present and interested during dinner table conversation.

At work, we build our legacy of memories both through the teambuilding special events as well as through the way we run our team meetings and one-on-one’s.

Just like any heritage, memories can be good and bad.

Here is an example of both.  One client recently shared how, with his current boss, their team meetings seem more contentious that with his previous manager.  I dug deeper and learned that the previous manager had a format which allowed team members to vent frustrations and dissension.  It was a defined process outside of the scheduled team meetings and the manager would address the issues in his own time and in his own way.  He instilled a tension-reducing routine to address conflict.

The new manager opted for a more “spontaneous” style.  Forget the structured (read:  heavy) style. His lack of tension-reducing routine resulted in having to balance and manage the different viewpoints publicly and without preparation.

Without realizing it, this new manager is creating a negative legacy of memories:  he leads division-filled meetings!

Leadership legacy of soul

Who are you when no one sees?

Don’t kid yourself.  Everyone sees it.

“Action expresses priorities.”

Mahatma Gandhi

You have heard, “Walk the talk.”  A legacy of soul includes talking the walk. Expressing your values.  Linking them to actions.

In her book, The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo, previously VP of Design at Facebook, speaks of such a moment with a boss.  She was frustrated and discouraged over missed deadlines and less than optimal team results.  She was confused as to next steps.

Her boss, instead of giving her a solution or a pep talk, pointed her to one of her strengths.  “You have great values.”

In saying so, he revealed his values too.  Trust.  Encouragement. Principled leadership.

In order to live out our values and to live according to them, we first have to know them.  Not the values that we think we should have or that make us popular.

We express our real values in how we use our most precious resources.  A peak at our calendar or bank statement reveal them!

Leadership legacy of insight

There is good news and bad news about insight.

Great news: insight is learning gained from experience and observation.  If you can act, watch, or listen, you can gain insight.  It is available to all

Hard news: we often gain it from mistakes.  We usually need insight when we are in a bind, when we feel vulnerable…and would rather people not know!

When everything is going well, we may hear the insights, but they barely stick.  We don’t need them and our mind is focused elsewhere.

I liken it to walking by a French bakery.  When I am hungry, I pause outside the window and salivate over the delicacies within.  I desire those goodies.  When my stomach is full, a trip to the bakery is the least attractive thing on my mind. It feels like force-feeding, no matter how delicious they taste.

How do we pass on learning so that team members receive it?

Amy Edmondson identifies organizational learning as one the key success factors in the Knowledge Economy.

With the speed of innovation and immediate global reach, companies need to act fast.  That implies taking risks and possibly making mistakes.  The companies that progress the fastest are those that capture the lessons learned and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Leaving a legacy of insight requires humility and empathy

  • Humility to take responsibility for our own decisions since insights are often gained from our mistakes
  • Humility to step back from being in the middle of action. To stand on the side-lines long enough to look back and gain hindsight
  • Empathy to meet a person with full respect in their moment of vulnerability
  • Empathy to share wisdom without judgement

Leadership legacy of a modelled life

Stories of the company’s leaders is a powerful way to transmit values and culture.

Try asking this question when interviewing for a job and you will cut through a lot of fluff.

“Tell me about your CEO’s career.  What is her experience? Can you share about a moment that convinced you to follow her?”

In my training classes we do an activity on the power of modelling.  We all know the importance of it, yet oftentimes the message stays in our minds.  This activity grabs folk in the gut, the place that motivates us to change behavior.

In this activity, I give the following instructions

  • Shake their hands
    While speaking, I demonstrate
  • Put their index and thumb together
    While speaking I show they how
  • And place their index and thumb on their chin
    While speaking, I do something different.  I place my index and thumb on my cheek
  • Then I wait silently for a response

Eight out of ten people put their index and thumb on their cheek.

One person puts it on his chin.

The other one looks confused and moves it back and forth between chin and cheek.

In the silence, participants start looking around.  Then they laugh with embarrassement.  “I followed what you did, not what you said!” “I hesitated…and decided to act like everyone else even though I clearly heard your instructions.” …

Actions speak louder than words.

Where to start strengthening your leadership legacy?

I share this framework with you as part of my legacy of challenge.  YOU have the potential for even greater impact.

In which of these six legacies are you intuitively strong?  How can you be even more intentional in that effort so that a spontaneous skill develops into a firm and positive legacy?

We are coming to a close of the pilot group of young managers in the “Be the Manager You Dream of Having” program.

I shared this framework with them because my vision for them is more than becoming the manager they dream of havingIt is also to develop their team members to become managers that will bring out the best in each individual and in the group.

We are all in the leadership development business:  it’s your imprint, my legacy, and the young managers’ graffiti too.

Bon courage.  Bon impact!

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