What’s Your Leadership Legacy?

“We seem to spend so much of our time chasing targets and calculating our next leadership move, rather than focusing on what it is that we want to achieve and be remembered for as organizational leaders.” – Rick Kelly

I was watching MasterChef Canada the other day, and was struck with thoughts about leadership as I saw the dynamics involved in the ad hoc teams that are formed by the wonderful young people on that show.

At the end of a competition, the leaders of the “losing teams” often have the chance to save themselves or a team member.

In this show, the leader of Team #1 took the stance that he had committed to a family member (i.e., another type of “team”) to save himself at all costs if need be. This felt a little like abdicating responsibility – I would have loved to see him personally own this stance.

The leader of Team #2 said that she was responsible for the success of the team and since they lost that this was also her responsibility to bear, so she would not save herself. And she said this without batting an eyelash. Her energy was clear, confident, and aligned. The best way I could describe it is “Not on my watch!” – meaning, no one on my team is going down on my watch.

But there was a twist this time – the teams had 30 seconds to come to a unanimous decision about which one person they would save.

Team #2 came to quick unanimous decision and the person who worked the hardest in the competition was saved. This man teared up as he headed to the “safe zone.” And you could literally see and feel the pure admiration that he had for his team leader in that moment.

I assumed Team #1 wouldn’t come to a decision. One of the team members felt that it was the leader’s decisions that caused them to fail. And she was right – and the leader knew this and had kind of admitted it. But they did come to a unanimous decision: they decided to save the leader (who would not budge on his stance of saving himself first and foremost). When asked why, the team member above said with tears in her eyes, “I would rather see one of my teammates safe, even if I believe they were at fault, than for all of us to be forced to do the next challenge.”

And then I had tears in my eyes.

You don’t actually have to be in the formal position of the leader to demonstrate leadership.

Circling back to Rick Kelly’s quote, both of these women will be remembered fondly for the legacies of courage and teamwork that they’ve left behind them. And I have a hunch that they have bright futures ahead of them because of this.

The next time you face a difficult workplace situation, try asking yourself, “What’s the legacy that I’d like to leave behind?” and see what comes up for you. I suspect that it will be naturally aligned with your core values and how you want to remembered in the workplace.