Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Review: A Leader’s Legacy (2006) by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

A Leader’s Legacy (2006) by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

One of the top leadership books recommended by other leaders is The Leadership Challenge by the same authors. Since I found this one in the library, and this one is the latest between the two and is shorter in volume than the other, and since each chapter in this book is briefer and nontechnical like the other one – I borrowed this one and I’m pleased with my decision. Satisfied customer! The idea of this book begins when their editor, Susan Williams, wanted both of them to write a book that was “a free-flowing exploration of leadership topics and lessons” that they learned over about two decades of experiences. She challenged them to “come down from the podium” and to be “much more personal, introspective, subtler, and at times, more blunt” in their writing style. And so this book is concise lessons that they learned in all those years. As a reader, this is good because it means I don’t have to read their other books.

What interest me about this book is the word “legacy.” Either you’re a leader or a leader with no formal title or a student of leadership (like me), every leader I’ve ever worked and talked with wants to leave a legacy. Thinking about our legacies requires us to move beyond short-term definitions of success. Legacies encompass past, present, and future, and when I pondered about my legacy, I’m forced to consider where I’ve been, where I’m now and where I’m going. I’m brought face-to-face with questions of who I am and why I’m here. “By asking ourselves how we want to be remembered,” writes Kouzes and Posner, “we plant the seeds for living our lives as if we matter. By living each day as if we matter, we offer up our own unique legacy. By offering up our own unique legacy, we make the world we inhabit a better place than we found it.”

Even though there were little ‘new ideas’ on leadership in this book, I’m challenged to think (or focus-thinking) about the legacies that I want to leave behind me. I’ve read books on leadership that touch on the subject of legacy, but none as intentional, personal, and provocative as this one. Here Kouzes and Posner examine in 21 chapters – arranged into four parts – the critical questions all leaders must ask themselves in order to leave a lasting impact. Below are the contents with my selection of quotes for each part:


When we move on, people do not remember us for what we do for ourselves. They remember us for what we do for them. They are the inheritors of our work. One of the great joys and grave responsibilities of leaders is making sure that those in their care live lives not only of success but also of significance” (p.10)

Chapter 1: Leaders Serve and Sacrifice
Chapter 2: The Best Leaders Are Teachers
Chapter 3: We All Need Loving Critics
Chapter 4: You Are the Most Important Leader in Your Organization
Chapter 5: No One Likes to Be an Assumption


Leadership is a relationship. It’s a relationship between those who choose to follow. Whatever the relationship is with one or many, leadership requires engaging others. No matter how much formal power and authority our positions give us, we’ll only leave a lasting legacy if others want to be in that relationship with us. Other people decide whether to follow or to run away. Others decide whether to cheer or jeer. Others decide whether to remember us or forget us. No discussion of leadership is complete without considering the quality of the leader-constituent relationship. Leadership requires a resonant connection with others over matters of the heart” (p.48).

Chapter 6: Leadership Is Personal
Chapter 7: Leaders Should Want to Be Liked
Chapter 8: When You Don’t See Eye to Eye, Seek to Understand
Chapter 9: You Can’t Take Trust for Granted
Chapter 10: Let Your People Go


People commit to causes, not to plans. Commitment is fuelled by what we cherish. If the values about which we care deeply are vividly clear to us, then the whims of fashion and the opinion polls won’t side-track us. A lasting legacy is built on a firm foundation of principles and purpose... Leaders must decide on what matters in life, before they can live a life that matters” (p.90).

Chapter 11: Lead from the Inside Out
Chapter 12: Forward-Looking Is a Leadership Prerequisite
Chapter 13: It’s Not Just the Leader’s Vision
Chapter 14: Liberate the Leader in Everyone
Chapter 15: Leaders Are Followers, Too!


Leaving a legacy is all about making a difference. We can only make a difference when we take stands. Every one of us is capable of taking stands on things that matter. That’s what it really means to live a courageous life. It takes courage to realize your dreams and to give meaning to your values. If you’re going to leave a legacy of lasting significance, it’ll be the result of acting courageously… Courageous is the virtue that makes all other virtues possible” (p.132).

Chapter 16: There’s Courage in All of Us
Chapter 17: You Can’t Plan to Be Courageous, But You Can Choose It
Chapter 18: It Takes Courage to Make a Life
Chapter 19: The Courage to Be Human
Chapter 20: Failure Is Always an Option
Chapter 21: No Money-Back Guarantee

Afterward: The Legacy You Leave Is the Life You Lead

The afterward title is worth repeating, read and let it sink in your mind. Read slowly:
The Legacy You Leave Is the Life You Lead. Lead on!

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