Just out of college and my boss, John Cabot Ishon, said he’d pay for me to join a professional association… as long as it was the Junior League. While I knew of “the League” – the movers and shakers in my hometown with a huge blue disk keychain with a big white JLHR embossed on it – they didn’t feel like my folks. While I had my perceptions of them, I couldn’t deny the impact they had on the community and the fun they looked doing it. While I accepted his offer with hesitation, I am forever grateful for his foresight of how this organization would impact my life as a leader through a safe place to learn, opportunity to grow, and supportive life-long friends.
If you’re not familiar with the League, it’s a global organization with community chapters. The women’s only program “promotes voluntarism, develops the potential of women, and improves the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Basically, the organization cultivates female leaders through formal training, information mentoring, and community service.
I joined. Reluctantly. I showed up. Watched from the outside. Not fully committing. Then I moved. Transferred membership to the Junior League of Northern Virginia, JLNV. I showed up. Watched from the outside. Then, someone literally asked me to the table. Invited me to sit with her. Thirteen years later, I became President during the organization’s 50th anniversary year. (The picture here is of me wearing my “JL” presidential pendant necklace that I wear as a leadership talisman, confidence booster, and source of pride.)
My presidential theme was “Legacy of Leadership.” I was carrying on my mom’s and grandmother’s legacy as community leaders through the League. The members were building their legacy as leaders trying new things and sharing lessons learned with other members. Sustaining members (those retired from active membership) were building the League’s legacy of leadership serving on other organization’s boards. The League was celebrating 50 years of developing women leaders – quite the legacy.
I think it’s important for every leader to take measure of and reflect on their legacy. To me, leadership is not about the person, the title, or the accolades. A true leadership legacy is about service to others. Here are way you can explore your legacy:
- How much of your calendar is spent in service to others on your team and in your organization?
- How many one-on-one meetings do you have to understand someone’s personal goals, skills, and concerns?
- How do you make time to grow through courses, books, podcasts, or mentorship?
- What have you done to build others up?
- How did you help others to shine?
- How do you elevate teammates who are younger, older, less experienced, first generation, another race/gender/ethnicity/economic status?
- How did you amplify rare voices at the table or advocate to get others to the table?
- Who did you rave about and endorse to other leaders?
- How have you shared your knowledge?
- How often did you say “I don’t know,” “I was wrong,” or “I’m sorry”?
- When do you give meaningful feedback?
- How often to you ask for and apply feedback?
- When was the last time you rolled up your sleeves and work side-by-side with other levels of people on your project?
- How often do you let go of something so others can have the experience and limelight?
- When did you openly share your hardships rather than make it all look easy?
- Do your words and actions demonstrate joy of leadership – not that it’s not without hardship and frustration, but on the whole are you a happy leader?
- Do you have candid discussions with peer leaders about what sparks their joy?
- Do you listen to emerging leaders and support their personal style of leadership that generates joy?
To me, a leadership legacy is built through intention, reflection, and action. It’s not just about your reputation or brand as a leader but in the strength of the leaders you help grow. Leadership legacy is a generational effort. Your efforts now to be an authentic, servant leader affects generations to come. Each person you give voice to, knowledge to, confidence to, feedback to, support to, opportunity to, spotlight to, and listen to can more quickly step into their full potential as a leader. And, then pass that gift on to others. Now that’s a legacy to invest in.