The Leaders We Leave Behind

“The art of management is consistently, efficiently achieving results; the art of leadership is growing people to produce enduring value.” (Kevin Cashman, The Pause Principle, p.82)

I was talking with a friend of mine who has spent his life building houses. He smiled when I asked him how many homes he had built. “You know, I never really counted.”

“It must feel great,” I said. “Leaving behind thresholds that brides will be carried over, living rooms where children will take their first steps, and kitchens where life will be lived and laughter will overflow. For decades what you’ve built will endure, stand strong, and be 'home' for families."

His response was a bit misty; “Thank you. I’ve never really thought about it that way.”

He walked away smiling. I walked thinking; “What am I building that will stand the test of time?”

“If business managed their money as carelessly as they manage their people, most would be bankrupt. The great majority of companies that control their finances don’t have any comparable processes for developing leaders or even pinpointing which ones to develop.” (Ram Sharan & Bill Conaty; The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers.)

It’s certainly not the programs I produce or the sermons I preach. I’ll confess a few moments of self-pity as I reflected on a life’s work that leaves very little in the way of a physical mark on the world. No thresholds, no living rooms, no kitchens.

Then, I remembered. I am where I am because others have built into me. I am a product of committed builders who wanted me to succeed. I’m sure I’m not what they imagined when they started building, but I’m in the fight and at my post.

What a leader leaves behind are people who have crossed thresholds, taken first steps, and enjoyed life and laughter at the table. And then, these leaders get up and lead others. What a leader leaves behind are leaders.

Someday, you will make your last corporate decision, hand in the keys and walk away. Someday, you will inspect your final shipment and close your final deal. Someday, I will walk off of a platform having preached my final sermon. Let’s commit together that when we do whatever it is we will do last as leaders, we leave behind threshold crossers, first step takers, and lovers of life at the table.

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:…” (Exodus 1:1)