How to Leave a Legacy: Lessons From Our Nation’s Leaders

· by Herb Dew

Herb is the CEO of HTI. He founded HTI in 1999 along with John Knight and David Sewell, and remains heavily involved in the organization today.
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Lessons of How to Leave a Legacy from Our Nation’s Leaders

Today is President’s Day. A day we celebrate the American President’s of the past. American Presidents have a legacy they each leave. Not everyone likes or believes in EVERY Presidents legacy. Like the politics of today, the American President has ALWAYS existed in the presence of dissension, disagreement and even once, rebellion.

I am drawn to Presidents. I cannot imagine the pressure of trying to lead a country with so much diversity. So many opinions. Cities versus rural. East Coast versus West Coast. North versus South. White and non-white. Etc. etc.

There are several Presidents that I think of often on days like this where their contributions are more front and center. And there are several lessons we can draw from their experience and learn how to leave a legacy as organizational leaders.

So, how do you leave a legacy?

  1. Inspire a shared vision.

FDR stepped into the presidency at a time when we as a country were economically in shambles. But he approached this with a vision that was simple: get people back to work. An exceptional administrator, his talent of being able to set a vision and get the country to move PAST that vision was unparalleled. At the advent of WW2, he challenged manufacturing to hit targets of production for planes and tanks. No one thought it was possible. Yet all targets were surpassed in a shorter period of time. FDR had VISION. And he knew how to bring people towards his vision. JFK also notably pushing Americans to put a man on the moon allowed the mission to be accomplished in 8 years.

  1. Develop a mindset of continuous learning and development.

Abraham Lincoln showed remarkable courage and patience despite amazing dissension from both the North and the South. And his eloquence, driven by his growth, of being able to say exactly the right thing at the right time. No other President in history has carried so much on his own shoulders. He taught us that we could fight off the stain of slavery and accept our Southern brothers back into the fold. He showed us how a man could adjust his point of view and become the author of the “Emancipation Proclamation” and “the Gettysburg Address”.

  1. Know when to walk away.

George Washington surrendering the presidency after his term was over was unheard of at that time. He very easily could have stayed “in power” and dubbed himself King of America. Yet he understood the importance of setting aside your ego and knowing that the country, or organization, has a life after you.

Today is Presidents Day. My examples span political party and time, but all have indisputable legacies.

We have been blessed with many of our Presidents. Each one has left some sort of legacy. Mostly good…some not so good and today is a day to reflect on them. What kind of legacy will you leave your organization?