Decisions That Destroy A Leader’s Legacy

by  Jeff Orr  |  Leadership Development

John Maxwell once commented on the time it typically takes to develop your leadership. The first few years in the organization is spent building relationships and showing your worth by the production you do. From years 5 to 7, you begin to see real traction as people recognize your leadership skill and contributions. After year seven, you begin to see results from your reputation in the community. This is why, he points out, if you continually move – from one job to another, from one place to another – you will have difficulty experiencing the larger returns on your leadership. They just don’t come quickly. When you do stick it out, through the good and the bad over the years, you can enjoy some great rewards as a leader.

Amazingly, all those years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice for your vision, can be wiped out so much quicker than you created it. A legacy of great achievement can be removed from the public memory because of a gross violation of leadership ethics. Such is the case with Penn State’s famed head football coach, Joe Paterno. His record as a leader is extensive. He has won many awards and has been honored many times over. His “grand experiment” was to combine excellence in football and academics, thus preparing his young men for success after college. He had a great leadership legacy. Yet his entire life’s work is tarnished. Fourteen years of his victories have been wiped away because of his participation to cover up the active abuse of children by his defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Because of his decision, his leadership legacy is literally trashed.

He is certainly not the only leader who has done this. We all are susceptible to making these kinds of leadership-destroying decisions. Now, more than ever, leaders need to step up their game. We need to rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of those values and ethics that made our country great. Values like integrity, honesty, and following through with your word. Values like, doing what is right no matter the consequence, need to be upheld. We need to hold each other to a higher standard. People don’t need perfect leaders, but they do need leaders who will pursue and exemplify truth. We can do this. We, as leaders, can help each other live to a higher standard and purpose. One that will bring hope and revival to our culture. One that will inspire creativity and innovation in the market place. One that will bring true prosperity and a legacy worth remembering.

As you look at other leaders and the decisions they made that led to their downfall, do you see similar patterns of behavior or decision making in your own leadership? Who speaks into your life to help you correct dangerous thinking patterns?


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What People Are Saying

Jenny  |  03 Oct 2012  |  Reply

This is all too true, Jeff. In my work, it’s too often that I see a leader of an organization be inconsistent. I think this inconsistency in character and discipline communicates to his/her team that he/she doesn’t take the job seriously. Leadership is all about consistency. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Jeff Orr  |  04 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Thanks Jenny. I agree, consistency is one of the keys. Whether it is with a team or your kids at home, consistency communicates and establishes a sense of security or boundaries that allow people to flourish.

Jon Goodwin  |  03 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Small integrity compromises does not go unnoticed. If your team does not believe they can trust you, they will not follow you. (recently dealt with this)

Jeff Orr  |  04 Oct 2012  |  Reply

So true! Trust takes time to develop but can be eroded quickly. Deeper relationship is critical for building deep trust.

Karin Hurt  |  05 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Sometime it’s the big bad decisions… but it can also be a series of small bad choices that create patterns. I have seen both play out and destroy trust. On the flip side, building a legacy can happen that way as well… through a wonderful series of doing the small things with authenticity and integrity.

Jeff Orr  |  05 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Good point Karin. Leaders don’t fall in a day. It is the daily, consistent smaller decisions that lead us down one path or another. If you are a leader who values integrity, you’re not going to wake up one day and decide to have a major breach of integrity. Instead, it will start with a small decision to hide or ignore an issue that is fairly insignificant. Once we do that, it’s easier to do it again with a bigger issue and so on.

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