We all want to leave something behind us, something to be remembered by. Managers in different sectors have different ways of managing their legacy.
The voluntary sector, for instance, places greater emphasis on continuity, to ensure the organisation's core values and culture are retained. Departing chief executives get a say in naming their successor and there seems to be a preference for internal candidates already in tune with the organisation's ethos. The underlying principle is one of avoiding radical change and a legacy of leaving an organisation in good shape – financially sound, free from internal strife, with reputation intact and a high external profile.
This couldn't be a bigger contrast with my experience in local government.
In the public sector in general and local government in particular chief executives come and go with greater frequency. The board or cabinet want change, not continuity. They don't want someone associated with the previous regime and they certainly don't think the outgoing chief executive should be selecting their successor. The legacy might be to get the organisation out of special measures or up the league table and will undoubtedly involve changing the organisational structure and culture. But such changes are often temporary. A change of political leadership following the elections and a new chief executive will mean another reorganisation, a new set of priorities and changes to the way things are done.
So what can a senior manager do that will last? What can any manager do that will say "I was here and, better, still I made a difference"?
When I took up my first management post in Birmingham I was responsible for a group of residential homes for older people. All the local authority homes had names like Victor Yates Home, Richard Lawner Home, Edwin Arrowsmith Home – all named after former councillors. Buildings are an obvious symbol of legacy – solid, visible and long lasting. But most of these council-run homes have closed, been demolished, the sites redeveloped, the names forgotten and the ideas they represented long since moved on.
So if not buildings what else? What sort of legacy can a senior manager leave when the next director will change everything? Budget cuts mean service reductions, changes in working practices, closures and removal of funding from innovator projects, dismantling what took years to build and accepting that things which made a real difference can no longer be afforded.
The legacy is not in buildings or services. It's in people. The people whose thinking you influenced, who might even today be thinking "What would he/she do?".
In my experience, a legacy can be a set of values, a management style, a way of doing things or a combination of all these. One manager's legacy was to inspire and encourage those he managed to become managers themselves. A disproportionate number of senior managers could trace back their career to a period spent working with this individual, many stayed in contact even though they had long since moved to other parts of the country. Another's legacy was to raise the profile and awareness of equality and diversity among her staff, inspiring them to think differently about recruitment, service delivery and people management. The importance someone attaches to integrity and ethical leadership will undoubtedly come from their own experience of this type of leadership.
All leaders want to leave a legacy, something that will last. Some try to do it by naming their successor, others set up scholarships or build museums and art galleries, former US presidents like to set up presidential libraries. But for most of us it will be the people we influenced.
Blair McPherson author of Equipping managers for an uncertain future published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk