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CoachWorks International, Inc.Accelerating Leader Learning in the Zone of Not Knowing.” Jeannine Sandstrom, L. Smith. LiNE Zine, Spring 2001.

Accelerating Leader Learning in the Zone of Not Knowing.” Jeannine Sandstrom, L. Smith. LiNE Zine, Spring 2001.

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.” Jim Collins, Harvard Business Review, January 2001.

Legacy Leadership: The 5 Best Practices. L. Smith, G. Ritcheske, J. Sandstrom (CWI Press, 1999)

The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era. F. Hesselbein, M. Goldsmith (editors), R. Beckhard, P. F. Drucker (Jossey-Bass, 1997)

The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization T. L. Friedman. (Anchor Books, 2000)

Visionary Leadership: Creating a Compelling Sense of Direction for Your Organization. B. Nanus (Jossey-Bass, 1995)

These days the press is full of evidence that business needs a “new leader in town”; not the traditional-style command and control leader, but one who uses the full talents of every person in order to compete in our global business world.

We’ve been coaching and working with leaders for years, have listened to the challenges, observed the successes, and compared what we’ve noticed against textbook descriptions. We’ve found there’s no shortage of data and information about competencies, techniques, and proficiencies—witness the bookshelves full of leadership tomes.

What we couldn’t find—what’s missing—is a comprehensive model to describe who great leaders really are and how they create great organizations that live beyond their time. Over the last decade, we set out to determine if such a model could be created.

Our Process

We studied the outcomes of current and emerging leader development in various areas using both conventional and cutting-edge techniques. We zeroed in on specific areas like visioning and direction, performance that affects the bottom line, and collaborative innovation.

We asked, “What do leaders do in order to have profitable organizations, attract and retain qualified loyal workers and customers, and find personal fulfillment in the process?” We did research to determine the characteristics that make up the best leaders in today’s knowledge-based economy. We looked to see what their principles and values of operation were and how they are standing the test of time in the face of an ever-changing, increasingly chaotic world. When we put the key competencies together, we found a compelling and comprehensive model that addresses all areas of leader behavior.

We found that strong leaders have two foundational beliefs in common:

1.   They are interested in leaving a legacy, but not one of things like buildings and foundations, ideas or social change; rather a legacy of people nurtured and developed as succeeding leaders who can take the organization to the next level.

2.   They are committed to sharing their experience and transferring their learning to the leaders of the future by playing a developmental role beyond that of mentor.

The competencies we found in these leaders are the abilities to:

      Hold a vision and direction with associated values and ethics.

      Create highly collaborative and innovative groups of workers and customers.

      Inspire others to action even to the degree that others outpace them.

      Advocate for differences in people, in their strengths, perspectives, and communities.

      Calibrate expected outcomes and get the desired results while fostering an environment of learning and performance agility.

Although this appears to be quite an extensive and perhaps difficult list, in practice it is simple yet elegant, easily integrated into current practices, and immediately applicable to everything the leader faces, in both good times and bad. The system of these best practices offers both learners and practitioners of the art of leadership a comprehensive group of behaviors that draw from the best of all that we know about the art of leadership. We call it Legacy Leadership.

Our Concept of Legacy

Conventional definitions of legacy characterize it as a "something"—whether a financial gift, the advancement of an idea, or a contribution to social change. Legacy Leaders characterize the idea quite differently. Their definition refers to the difference they make today with the people in their lives and in their organizations—someone rather than something. They believe that the greatest way to affect the long-term success of their organization is to nurture and develop its future leaders and to model what they believe will serve the organization in the long term—hence the role of leader as learner and teacher in the Legacy Leadership model.

The Foundations

The foundation of the model is the leader as a lifelong learner—a teacher—and by being so, models and instills such a foundation in others that builds a personal legacy. Who can forget that favorite teacher, mentor, or leader whom you willingly followed and emulated? That’s the kind of leader loyal employees are looking for; one who grows people to be their best so those individuals foster learning in others as well.

Leader as Learner

Legacy Leaders have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wisdom. They are always tuned in to new learning and are flexible enough to “unlearn” when necessary. Every event and conversation is an opportunity for learning, both professionally and personally. Basic optimism is at the heart of this leader, who faces even the toughest of times as having potential for the positive. Further, this “learning leader” gathers new information and learning from those who follow, is never afraid to say “I don’t know,” and creates a learning environment everywhere he or she is present.

Leader as Teacher

For Legacy Leaders, learning is most powerful when shared. The laboratory for teaching is in the people who follow. As the old saying goes, “Learn it once and teach it to learn it twice.” Legacy Leaders eagerly pass along tried and true methods as well as new learning. They are ecstatic when that information or method is then passed along to others.

Leader as Legacy Builder

The legacy resides in being both a learner and a teacher. The Legacy Leader is committed to having at least a three-generational thumbprint, building leaders who build leaders who build leaders. The real legacy grows exponentially every day. The focus of leadership is on the people who actually carry through and make the organization successful. The success then is only as good as the leader’s ability to build the human capital to be their best. The motto for this kind of leader is, “Live your legacy now. Let it reside in the people.”

The Practices

We found that leaders exhibit five distinct competencies in being a learner, teacher, and legacy builder. We call them the Five Best Practices of Legacy Leaders.

Best Practice 1 — Holder of Vision and Values

Leaders establish the direction (vision) and determine how (values and guiding principles) the organization will work to reach the goals. They know what future success looks like and hold the space for it to happen until others can walk into that space. As a map leads to a destination and allows you to know your progress at any given time, the leader takes a stand for both the vision and values, develops strategy around it, and measures all decisions and actions against it. The legacy of this is that leaders communicate the vision and values throughout the organization, asking their direct reports to translate the vision and guiding principles for each unique work unit. Each person across the organization ultimately knows his or her exact and unique contribution to the total effort. This, in effect, has each of them hold the vision and values as well. The legacy resides in them.

This practice establishes direction and gains commitment. Critical success skills in this practice are (1) developing a vision and a set of values (2) developing and executing a strategy and (3) gaining commitment to action.

Best Practice 2 — Creator of Collaboration and Innovation

One of the biggest gaps in business today is having a trusting environment where synergy of ideas can bubble up. Rather than making edicts from on high, the Legacy Leader creates an environment that facilitates trust and collaboration. As that occurs, the leader also gathers together people with differing perspectives, talents, gifts, and attitudes for the purpose of creating something bigger, better and more significant than any one of them could have done alone. Then, and only then, can true innovation happen. This legacy develops groups who leverage the greater good for the organization as a whole.

This practice creates an environment of highest quality working relationships. The critical success skills are (1) establish trust, (2) masterfully listen and facilitate, (3) gather perspectives and ask tough questions, and (4) discern a need for change.

Best Practice 3 — Influencer of Inspiration and Leadership

This practice fosters inspiration and builds strong relationships. Legacy Leaders have a very positive influence on their followers. Whether in the best or worst of times, people want to have hope and inspiration to stay the course. Leaders frame everything they do into learning opportunities, including discussion of mistakes, risks, and decisions. Leaders also focus more on people than on anything else and encourage them to grow and develop to new levels of achievement. This legacy ensures that everyone in the organization learns to do what the leader models.

Legacy Leaders focus on the heart of individuals and their relationship with the leader. Critical success skills for this best practice are (1) high levels of emotional intelligence in order to connect easily with people, (2) ability to recognize, acknowledge, and inspire others, (3) placing emphasis on developing leaders throughout the organization, and (4) being humble with a fierce resolve to accomplish the goals of the organization.

Best Practice 4 — Advocator of Differences and Community

Because the leader wants the best talent possible, he or she will bring in people of diverse experiences and backgrounds. This practice helps participants go beyond the standard diversity issues, although those are very important. Here we look for the best talent possible, where the right people are in the right jobs, and where everyone works from their individual strengths. The leader gathers these diverse perspectives and creates a community to achieve positive results for the organization. To accomplish this, each level of leadership must know their people inside and out in order to use their talents and draw out the best from them. The legacy appears from developing maximum strength from everyone in the organization and using each individual’s talents and perspectives to the fullest level of participation.

This practice enhances distinction and inclusion. Simultaneously, the leader focuses on unique differences and on including all of the differences in order to create an outcome that goes beyond what any one person would have created alone. Critical success skills here are (1) ability to advocate for people and practices, (2) ability to recognize strengths, (3) recognizing and participating in community building, and (4) the ability to promote an inclusive environment that unites towards a common focus.

Best Practice 5 — Calibrator of Responsibilities and Accountability

A Legacy Leader constantly measures everything done against the prevailing vision and values, which we call calibration. We encourage leaders to have a certain level of performance and strategic agility so they can be flexible in a chaotic environment. They stay on track by making mid-course corrections that allow the outcomes to be even better than expected. The leader executes against the strategic plan and knows, at any given time, the present status and projections.

To accomplish this execution against plan, the leader must evoke each individual’s top level of performance. They make tough decisions about people, strategy, and organizational accomplishments and focus on minimizing any negative impact. The legacy is that, in the everyday workplace, people learn to be accountable, to fulfill their responsibilities as well as to contribute to the bottom-line results of the organization.

This practice focuses on execution and performance. The critical success skills are the (1) ability to execute and implement the organizational strategy, (2) vigilance of progress toward goals and direction, (3) ability to gain commitment for top performance, and (4) constant awareness of trends in order to adapt to change and recalibrate as necessary.

Legacy Leadership in Action

Immediate Application

We were hired by a leadership team to help them have more successful, efficient, and effective meetings. We used all the skill building of Best Practice 2: Creator of Collaboration and Innovation. We helped them measure their level of trust with each other, discover how they wanted to work together, and how to make better decisions. We encouraged them to ask each other tough questions that no one had been willing to ask and assisted them in listening fully to and learning from one another. They developed their own meeting model and began to hone their facilitation skills to foster collaboration.

The team began to use their new tools immediately. When they were together as a unit, they practiced and built their skills. The team became an effective, collaborative unit, gathering the best of their individual talents for the outcomes of each discussion. With just these simple tools, they accomplished more than they had anticipated. Then we described the four other practices they could develop for a comprehensive model of leadership, with each piece being immediately applicable. The overall results were dramatic. They made decisions more effectively and no one lobbied for change after the fact. Great confidence grew in the abilities of the group to be more innovative. Their competitive advantage grew, even through a short downturn in their industry. They are currently alive and thriving.

Building on What Works

Leaders have also told us that they needed an approach that would build on what was already working well. They did not want to start all over again with other initiatives as many companies have done. We agreed that it was better to build rather than deconstruct. We did make them aware; however, that they may need to do some “unlearning” in order to shift to a more effective approach.

One emerging leader, recently promoted from being a technical manager, had been using a solution-oriented technique that worked very well. As she continued to learn about leadership in her new position, she found that she had to develop many new skills beyond trouble-shooting and problem-resolution. As she learned about the five practice areas, she began to integrate her solution skills into all five practices, and immediately felt familiar in those new areas.

We developed a model to make learning as simple, yet as powerful, as possible. Adding new learning to the old wisdom allows leaders to start from familiar territory and build on what works. This leader becomes the person to seek out for direction, collaboration, inspiration, inclusion, and accountability. The leader simultaneously teaches others to solve problems in a proactive, rather than reactive, way.

A Structure That Holds All the Parts

Leaders want a model that provides a structure and direction for everything they do. When we begin working with leaders, we help them identify the competency area(s) needing an upgrade. They want guidance in such development areas as big-picture thought leadership, masterful facilitation, or building a business case for decision-making. All of these fit within one of the five practices and, like facets of a diamond, go together to make a beautiful gem.

One executive team wanted to determine the leadership practices they should use to measure their executive performance. They had a laundry list of some 20 factors that would make a good leader within that company. The list included: performance agility, developing subordinates, getting results, and strengthening customer relationships. These 20 factors then became the measurements of a 360-degree feedback process. In delivering the feedback, we found that each of the executives could understand the individual factors, but couldn’t see how they would all work together for overall better leadership. After we did an overlay comparison of their competencies with our Five Best Practices model, they began to see their leadership as an all-encompassing practice rather than as individual parts. Not only that, but they found there were some gaps—missing competencies—that needed to be added to the equation of true leadership. They found our model gave them a complete picture of the desired leadership. Because they saw the larger picture of leadership, they surpassed their own goals of performance. The magical moment came when they discovered that they could simultaneously increase the level of performance in their direct reports.

Comprehensive and Compelling

Leaders want a system that serves them in both the best and worst of times. Business today demands a more holistic approach and leaders now must do so much more than merely cast a vision and get results. Our model covers all the major contingencies. Those leaders, who only have one or two of the competencies, have major gaps in their abilities. The charismatic, inspirational leader may be good for public presence and relationship building, but not good with vision casting and executing to plan. The visionary leader may not be good at holding people accountable or creating a culture of trust and collaboration. The command and control leader may not be good at being without the right answer or respecting diverse viewpoints that build better answers. Our model continues to help leaders be well rounded, balanced in approach, and surrounded with similarly gifted leadership peers.

We worked with the president of a turnaround company who could rally the troops successfully. Although all his employees loved him personally, they needed him to be more than a dynamic leader. His board needed him to cast a vision and hold people accountable for executing against the strategy. In a difficult time, needing to turn declining profits around while not losing competitive advantage, he still could not make the tough decisions that impacted people negatively. He was loyal to his people, ultimately at their expense. Once we helped him to identify and shore up critical gaps in his skill set, he was able to communicate his plan, get commitment, and get the turnaround done. They stopped the “bleeding” in profits in the first year, and the year after saw a dramatic increase in profits.

Simple Replicability

If you’ve ever had leadership training only to return and find that your learning didn’t translate to others, you know the sad feeling of having invested time and money only to have the knowledge not be transferable. Good ideas are sometimes just like that, with no way to replicate the idea, yourself, or what you’ve learned. With Legacy Leadership, the direct reports can replicate everything, and in turn, those direct reports transfer legacy leadership to their direct reports.

Our model provides a process to measure and predict the impact of simple changes. It includes steps to outline what action to take, and what differences can be expected, with their related impact on the bottom line. Rarely do we find leaders who can predict the observable and measurable behavioral differences that a shift would effect, or, just as importantly, the impact that shifts would make on the organization as a whole. Using our process is easy because it has the leaders focus on the different pieces necessary to make such decisions and go forward with a plan, knowing that it will likely get the desired results. Every leader who uses our model can hardly wait to share such a simple process, particularly the best practice that worked for them. That’s replication at its best.

Because Legacy Leadership develops other leaders, everything that we have leaders do is replicable in a similar process or procedure. Accountability for their own leadership is enhanced in this way. We find that the leadership processes begin to quickly filter through the organization, so that ultimately the entire culture is touched. When leaders understand that replication of effective processes in others is easier than other methods to equip the troops for success, they are able to see their legacy alive and well every day. Even when the leader is absent, the processes continue to work.

Taking Action Now

If you’re leader today, it’s likely that you actively study the art of leadership or that you are looking for those tips, tools, and techniques to constantly upgrade your own leadership abilities. We encourage you to use the 5 Best Practices in your work. We use them with our clients and in our own organization each day. We actively test, modify, and continually seek those practices and models that use our strengths to maximize our work with others while building our own company for profitability with a legacy in real time. We want to build those strengths and maximize the talents of other leaders with something easily transferable. We want to replicate our leadership, but not clone ourselves. We have found that the model is comprehensive, yet flexible enough to allow for all styles, types, and perspectives of leaders to contribute the best of their unique talents. As leaders ourselves, we want to emphasize leaders as learners, leaders as teachers, and leaders as builders of legacy.

So our challenge for you is this—how can you apply the best practices of Legacy Leadership in your own arena? We look forward to hearing how it goes.

Dr. Jeannine Sandstrom, CEO and founder of CoachWorks International, Inc. is an internationally known Executive Leader Coach. For over 20 years, clients have recognized her as a valued resource in accelerating their leadership development and organizational effectiveness. Her mission as a “possibility generator” is to unlock the leader potential so that they make a positive difference in the lives of others while creating organizations with sustained vitality. You can reach her directly at

Dr. Lee Smith, Executive Leader Coach, is President of CoachWorks International, Inc. headquartered in Dallas, Texas. She is considered a pioneer in the coaching profession and her primary work is in the area of equipping leaders for high levels of performance, both today and in the future. Smith’s mission is to serve as a partner with leaders who want to transform their leadership abilities to Legacy Leadership and bridge the gap between professional achievement and personal significance. Reach her at

The authors would like to thank Karen Wright and Marcia Conner for their time and attention on this article.


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