February 15, 2016—All leaders want to be great. But the reality is most leaders of an organization will not have a long enough tenure in office, or realize sufficiently significant accomplishments to leave a legacy. Sometimes that has more to do with particulars of at what point a leader enters the system, and what issues must be addressed. For example, a founding leader will likely be remembered mostly for that accomplishment—birthing an institution through vision and force of personality. A turnaround leader may be remembered for addressing a crisis and moving an institution through decline toward stability. A legacy leader will be remembered for establishing initiatives that have lasting impact: a program, a building, an endowment, etc. Most leaders, however, will likely fall into epochs of institutional maintenance and moderate development. As effective and meaningful was their leadership, lacking a dramatic narrative during their tenure in office, most will not be remembered much beyond being “placeholder leaders.”
If asked, “What will they say about you?” each leader will tend to respond differently.
Founding leaders will likely respond that people will say they were charismatic, visionary, and tenacious.
Turnaround leaders will likely respond that people will say they were courageous, innovative, enterprising, and relentless.
Legacy leaders will likely respond that people will say they were visionary, forward-looking, and “great.”
Maintenance leaders will struggle answering the question, responding they’d be remembered for being steady, holding things together, providing stability, and “maturing” the organization.
Ultimately, what people say about you as a leader may have less to do with your personality or self-perception, and more about the happenstance of when you entered the organization as leader, and, how well you provided what the organization needed of you during your tenure as leader. Regardless, it is worth considering the question, “What will they say about you?”
On a few occasions I’ve engaged in the exercise of writing my own obituary or epitath. The exercise was prompted in seminars or workshops, and on one occasion as part of my orientation as a hospice chaplain. Kierkegaard said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” That’s helpful advise for developing perspective. Which reminds me of the story about a priest, a rabbi, and a minister…
A Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and a rabbi are discussing what they would like people to say after they die and their bodies are on display in open caskets.
Priest: “I would like someone to say ‘He was a righteous man, an honest man, and very generous.’”
Minister: “I would like someone to say ‘He was very kind and fair, and he was very good to his parishioners.’”
Rabbi: “I want someone to say ‘LOOK! HE’S MOVING!!’”
So, what do you want them to say about you and your leadership when it’s all said and done?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.