I took a college class one semester from a guest instructor who had recently been the president of a large and influential organization. His presidency had lasted over twenty years and he had overseen numerous high-profile change initiatives. I enjoyed the class immensely and was really challenged in my leadership thinking. I even remember staying after class to share some theories I was working on and get his input.
So when I called up a friend who had been associated with the organization this man had led, I couldn’t have been more shocked at what he told me.
“What??” my friend replied. “You’re taking a class with the boob-grabber??”
“Wait.. what are you talking about?” I sputtered.
“Yeah, he got busted for sexual harassment a couple years back and they gave him the pink slip.”
As soon as I hung up the phone, a quick Internet search confirmed my friend’s claims.
What do you think: did my opinion of this man change?
I’ll go ahead and answer: you bet it did! I was sorely disappointed for one reason. I had expected this man’s leadership character to match his leadership competency. When I found out that it didn’t, I knew I could no longer consider him as a leader worth emulating. I could still learn from him, but ultimately I couldn’t view him as anything less than a bad example.
So what can you and I do to make sure our legacy stays in tact?
I once met with a CEO of a regional bank and found that my seat across his desk was significantly lower than his seat so that I had to look up at him when I spoke to him. It felt as ridiculous as it looks in the movies. And it really seemed to be an intentional message that he was the far superior person in the room.
Author Mark Miller says there is really one question to consider as a leader: are you a serving leader or a self-serving leader? In other words, are other people a means to an end for you or are you in it for them? If we feel we have to convince people that we are better than they are, they may follow us temporarily when they have no other options, but that will be it.
Increase Your Accountability
I’ve heard stories about married leaders who never spend any one-on-one professional time with a member of the opposite sex other than their spouse, even though it can sometimes create a hassle. That’s always seemed extreme to me, although in my college instructor’s case it would have saved him a lot of grief. But I do know that when it comes to accountability, as leadership authority increases, the standards for ethical behavior should expand, not retract.
When the Founding Fathers of the United States created a limited government with many checks and balances, it was because they understood firsthand the human tendency to abuse power. Don’t play above the system. Look for ways to demonstrate that you operate above reproach, whether it’s in the way you handle relationships, the company credit card, time away from the office, etc.
Treat People the Way They Ought to be Treated
Obviously treating people right goes above and beyond simply not harassing them. All people deserve to be treated with honor, dignity and respect, regardless of their status, position or demographic. If you are a leader, are people more likely to succeed because of you? Do they know where they stand with you and do you make sure they have the resources to get their jobs done and become more in the future than they are today?
Maya Angelou famously stated, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
There are many outside factors that will affect your leadership legacy. But don’t let what you can’t control keep you from what you can control. When your work is finally finished, your legacy is all you’ll have left.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.