Your Leadership Wake: In The End, What Would Happen If You Were To Leave Tomorrow?

Leadership Lesson: Always keep the future – the mid-term and long-term — in mind, and consider what things would look like and how well they would work after you’re gone.

This previous post had broken down the power and influence of leadership impact and introduced this series of posts covering where the wake from a leader’s actions can be observed and felt.

It outlined how a leader — or anyone, for that matter — can create and leave behind a positive, exhausting, or neutral experience for those around them, based on how they approach different areas such as collaboration, communication, and expression.

It asked us to consider what a leader leaves in their wake.

This post is the last of the series which has broken down a few of the areas in which a leader has the ability – and opportunity, depending on how you look at it – to establish their impact and set the resulting ripple effect and tone for each of the areas covered in the series.

To assess a targeted area of his or her leadership impact, each post outlined a consideration the leader should take into account by answering a specific question.

To sum up this series on leadership wake and the impact we leave as leaders, the final way to begin analyzing that impact is asking…

What Would Happen If I Were To Leave Tomorrow?

What do you leave in your leadership wake? What would that environment you’ve worked in look like after your departure? What has your approach and reputation inspired? What will be your legacy?

Because leadership is not only about what you move people to do in the moment while you’re working with them but also about what they continue to maintain and build off of when you’re gone, a leader should generally ask the question, What did others take away from their experience with me?

Specifically, to start, the leader should also ask the following questions:

Who would be best suited to step up? Some would argue the main goal of a leader is to develop other leaders. How have you gone about doing that? Who have you prepared to step into your shoes, in your absence?

Which players could comprise a group which could cover all areas covered by leadership? If it’s not one particular person, hypothetically, which group of people would make up the cross section of specialties and backgrounds which could handle everything in the everyday, and lead the organization forward?

What would the culture of the organization be? What kind of culture would you leave behind? Would it remain intact? Would it survive? How would it thrive? How would it continue?

Would the organization have a good grasp on its goals, from the short-term all the way through the long-term? In terms of strategy, has the discipline, vision, and motivation been infused into the culture enough so that the strategy has become second nature — and it’s being lived?

What cultural mindset have I left for improvement and evolution? Specifically, how is the culture now going to continue to get better – not merely continuing in the same direction to achieve its goal today but continually assessing and reassessing resources and the environment to evolve on its own?

So, for the organization, workforce, and mission left behind, what does the leader’s ultimate wake look like in the positive, exhausting, or neutral experience?

The Positive Experience

In the positive experience the company is working at its finest, continuing to evolve into the future of its ability and of its industry.

As a result, the workforce knows what it’s meant to do. There’s more ownership of work, and people are contributing as much as they can to their role, because they now know and understand the value of their own knowledge and the value of an organization that taps into that knowledge.

As a result, the organization thrives, innovates, and reshapes its industry. The culture is about moving forward, with all the available resources being tapped for its own evolution and expansion.

This is the positive experience because the majority of the organization is on the same page. (“Majority” because there will always be some issues, meaning the minority.) This does not mean the “same page” in terms of details, where everyone acts and executes in an identical manner but instead on the same page in that the culture has the common foundation and desire to move forward.

The Exhausting Experience

In the exhausting experience, the leader most likely has left the organization in shambles. This could mean it has deteriorated either financially, organizationally, or in morale, or any combination of the three. The organization is crippled in the here and now as well as for the future.

As a result, the workforce may be rudderless, morale broken and anxiety heightened. Because there was no vision supplanted into the collective mind of the organization, there is no future to work toward. Without a future to work toward, there can be no meaningful work today. And without meaningful work today, there can be no pride in the organization.

As a result, the organization is in dysfunction. If no leader wants to come on board, it is up to upper management to organize itself to pick up the pieces. If a new leader does come on board, it will take some time to get the organization back into fighting form.

This is the exhausting experience because of the toll the lack of encouragement, vision, and leadership has taken on – and cost — the organization. It is expending twice the energy now to recuperate operations and regenerate performance than it would have had it been lead and managed appropriately in the first place.

The Neutral Experience

In the neutral experience, the new leader comes in to an organization that is ready to move at the leader’s whim. It does not have its own culture, standards, or pride. It leaves all decisions to the leader. It is more reactive than proactive.

As a result, the workforce has done enough to get things done. The workforce has retained enough to maintain a semblance of organization and efficiency, without necessarily improving the work forward through innovation.

As a result, the organization has thrived but not to the best of its ability or potential. It has maintained its industry position and business operations, without being able to tackle, or even acknowledge, the best ideas of its culture. The culture is not broken, but it also isn’t emboldened to push forward.

This is the neutral experience because performance has neither stalled nor thrived. Just enough has been accomplished to get the organization by. It hasn’t had the crippling and deteriorating effects of the exhausting experience or the great developments and growth of the positive experience.


Leaders can’t just think about the here and now as they lead. They need to be aware of the footing upon which they leave an organization, group, or mission when they move on.

That’s the leader’s legacy, and it is also a gauge by which a leader is remembered and judged.

How much will the next leader have to pick up the pieces or start from scratch?

How will you focus on what you do for the future of your work, no matter where you sit in the hierarchy?

How is your environment better for you having been there, no matter the scale of the impact?

What will you leave in your leadership’s wake?

Questions to consider for the leadership wake:



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