John C. Maxwell, the noted author and lecturer, in his book "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" asked, “Who is your legacy?” Essentially Maxwell was asking with whom are we working to prepare to take over when we are no longer leading?
How are you prepared to answer that question? Everyone essentially serves as a leader in your organization so no matter your position, you perform a valuable service inside and outside the workplace.
Many organizations have developed leadership competencies for each position only to find something missing as people are not ready to hit the ground running when vacancies occur.
Who is your legacy? How are you prepared to answer that question?
To address this, forward-thinking organizations include a competency on mentoring. However, some subsequently discover that just adding something to a list of competencies was not effective as people were still not adequately prepared to fill the void.
Succession planning is more than just identifying those who will take over when we move on. It also involves proactively developing the skills and knowledge that our successors will need when they do take over.
Successors need to be given the opportunity to work on the types of projects or functions they will eventually be expected to lead. When possible, they should be given the opportunity to lead and learn.
If succession planning is good for the few, it is good for the many! The accumulated skills and knowledge of the many works like super-glue to make organizations stronger. We should reach out to all of those around us and provide opportunities to the broader group with whom we interact.
So how do we make this happen? How can we possibly mentor everyone? One way is by encouraging those we mentor to, in turn, mentor others–thereby passing along the knowledge they have learned along the way.
Maybe we are not currently in a management position, but that does not mean we are not providing leadership to our organizations. It certainly does not mean that we should not be helping others to develop themselves. Equally important, though, we should continually be working to improve ourselves.
We need to keep our minds open to opportunities to acquire, practice, and hone our leadership skills. It is through these opportunities that we strengthen our value to our organizations, our communities, and more importantly to ourselves. With new skills we can meet the challenges of today, tomorrow, and the future!
It is also in our personal lives and in our communities, however, that we find opportunities to lead, grow, mentor others, and be mentored by others. We must become involved in learning and helping others learn. We must think of ourselves as farmers who prepare the ground, plant seeds, fertilize, nurture, and grow the next generation!
Like John Maxwell proposed, we can ask ourselves the more personal question, ‘Who is my legacy?’
If we cannot answer that question in less than one minute, we have not been spending enough time on this critical question. Now is the time to look around to see who we can mentor to pass on our knowledge. You may never mentor a future CEO, but that is not necessarily the measure of success as a mentor.
One thing I learned from one of my earliest mentors: When hiring someone, unless having a critical technical position to fill, look for someone who can perform the opening position, but more importantly, select someone who has potential to move up one or two levels.
In essence, look for someone who has potential to be your boss one day. Repeat this process for every opening needing to be filled! At the very least, your corner of the organization will be full of super-performers, and you also will look like a star.
I am reminded of something that Forrest E. Witcraft (deceased scholar, teacher, and Boy Scout Executive) said in the October 1950 issue of Scouting magazine which I still recall reading. I am sure that he would forgive me when I paraphrase ‘One hundred years from now the world will be a better place because I was important in the life of others.’
This is the heart of mentoring and helping others. Freely passing on what it has taken a lifetime to learn so that others will benefit. It is up to us to create that unbroken chain of events and opportunities which will lead to great and wonderful accomplishments of which we can share.
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