leadership development, legacy, the why

One thing marks every long standing organization or institution: the ability to transfer purpose, vision and meaning to the next generation, so they can continue to influence and to carry the legacy.

But this action is easier said than done. Today I want to offer practical ways to help you pass on the legacy baton to the next generation (or next gen) leaders to better ensure the organization doesn’t drift from its founding principles.

Articulate The Why

Over time in any organization how something is accomplished might change. New technology and methods allow things to be done differently. Simon Sinek is a leading proponent of transferring The Why of what we do versus the how or what.

If you haven’t seen his TED Talk video, I highly recommend it!

Here is how most organizations communicate according to Sinek:

  • What: “Here is our law firm.”
  • How: “We have the industry’s most intelligent lawyers, who graduated from the world’s top schools. Have you seen our client list? Only from the Fortune 500! And, check out our offices; they are absolutely pristine.”
  • Behavior: “Come do business with our law firm!”

What is missing is The Why. Perhaps if this law firm has been in existence for some time with all the founding partners having left, the current team members can’t even answer The Why question.

What if the founders of this law firm had this Why in mind:

“We believe in serving the legal needs of others so that they can focus on the difference they need to make while leaving their legal worries to us. “

This declaration of the Why would clarify many things going forward and prevent organizational drift.

One. The firm would assess the difference-making abilities of its clients. Those with the most impact potential on the world and not the financial books of the firm would be given priority.  (“… they can focus on the difference they need to make.”)

Two. The systems and process would be designed to alleviate legal work and stress from the clients whenever possible. (“…leave the legal worries to us…”)

Without these two things clarified, the firm might be tempted to take on a client merely because they are big or pay well. Or they may fail to offer high concierge type service in line with lifting as many legal headaches and burdens off their clients.

Talk About What Was Missing

Most long-term successful organizations began because they saw a hole or vacuum that needed to be filled. The 2005 bestselling book Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant is a still a great resource in understanding how great companies tend not to just do the same thing someone else did. They possess a unique “Why” even if they are in the same industry or field. Consider having your next-gen leaders read this and discuss the Why of your company or organization.

Caught Not Taught

Realize that next-gen leaders who will be influencing your culture in the future will do more of what they have seen the previous leadership model than what is taught to them in manuals, clinics and trainings sessions. Culture is caught more than taught.

In our law firm example, if the leadership says they want to serve difference-makers but take on non-difference makers as clients, the next-gen team members will begin to see the difference making part of the firm’s Why statement as merely words on paper. But, if they see you not take on what could be a well-paying client because they are not making the kind of positive difference your firm wants to see made in the world, that speaks volumes.

In addition, if you want to alleviate stress from others but all your firm does is pile on anxiety and unrealistic expectations on lower level team members, don’t expect them to then offload stress from your clients. They will model how they are treated both inside and outside the firm.

Find Teachable Moments and Create Them

Having an eye open for real-life teachable moments is a great strategy to influence the next generation of your organization’s leadership. These moments become particularly embedded within the next-gen’s thinking and actions as they are attached to real challenges or problems they have faced, not merely theory.

A particularly good time to instruct is at times of large victory, and when the Why of the organization is breached. When sharing a successful moment, reiterate how the Why shaped this success.  In this sense, you are catching the organization or team doing something right for the right why and celebrating it. Also, when a breech to the Why happens, discuss it with the next-gen leader. Showing the damage or potential damage a “Why Breech” can do to the organization is a giant AHA moment.

You can also create these teaching moments by providing hypothetical situations and asking them to express how they would lead through it, and what decisions they would make. If you see a vision for the Why of your organization, reinforce that. If there is a violation of its principles, talk this through with them. While not as valuable as a real-world situation, these moments can influence the next-gen leader before the real thing happens. They’ll be more confident in facing it, and you’ll be better assured the legacy of your organization will be maintained.

Tell Stories

Stories have real power. Tell the early stories of your organization’s formation as these stories typically present the message of the Why in a narrative form. This type of communication engages the next-gen leaders of your organization in a much different way neurologically and emotionally than a bulleted list.

Harrowing stories of barely surviving the launch, potholes hit, and obstacles overcome should also be included. Victorious stories of seeing the Why first come to fruition also serve to anchor this message.

The Apple Example: Question

Steve Jobs was a Why fanatic. Sometimes he allowed this to negatively affect the way he treated others at Apple, but everyone knew why Apple did what they did. Upon his exit and subsequent death, it will be fascinating to see if Apple can maintain the Why and stay a leading innovator, or whether they will go the way of Dell, IBM, HP and others simply seen as computer and gadget makers.  For now it appears the Why baton was handed off, but the real test for Apple will be in the next 10-15 years when the echo of Jobs footsteps in the hallway diminish as direct reports retire. Will they have reinforced the Why enough for the next generation of Apple execs to have a clear map to influence the future?

You Can Do It

You can pass (and must pass) on the baton to the next generation if you want your organization to maintain its influence past a 20-30 year cycle.  Be intentional and proactive about sharing why your organization started.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina