What Will Your People Say When You Move On?


After a real leader has moved on, the people who worked for him or her will always say, “I learned more and did more than I ever thought I could. – Alan M. Webber

A story is told that when Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius there were many persons buried in the ruins who were afterwards found in very different positions.

There were some found in deep vaults, as if they had gone there for security. There were some found in lofty chambers. But where did they find the Roman sentinel?

They found him standing at the city gate where he had been placed by the captain, with his hands still grasping the weapon. There, while the earth shook beneath him, there, while the floods of ashes and cinders overwhelmed him, he had stood at his post, and there, after a thousand years, he was found.

The legacy of that soldier standing guard is a testament to his loyalty and sense of duty. In the face of death he did not abandon his post and was a true soldier to the end.

There comes a time when every leader moves on. It may be after many years of faithful and dedicated service to an organization, or it may be after just a short period of time. But the question under consideration is what will be said about you by those who remain. Just like the soldier standing guard at Pompeii, you too will leave a legacy. What do you think the conversation will sound like after you walk out the door? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that this is what they were saying?

“He taught me how to serve”

How nice it would be to know that the people you leave behind will reflect on this attribute of your leadership. Real leaders get this principle and drive home the importance of it routinely – it’s not about you. Your title or position does not make you a leader. It is however, a responsibility given and an opportunity to seize in being a part of something larger than yourself. It’s a leadership principle you have lived by and one that others got to see up close and personal. It stuck. Now you are gone- but not forgotten. A few former colleagues gather around after you are gone and the conversation starts off like this: “Remember the first time he came to us and told us that we were adopting a family during the holidays and…”

“She led with integrity”

At the end of the day your integrity is the most important thing you carry with you out the door. Are the accolades nice? Yes. But you built your legacy as a leader on the premise of integrity. You can walk out the door with your head held high and with no regrets. It was when you modeled integrity on a daily basis that your people knew that they could follow and trust you. When you easily could have cut corners on quality and turned a larger profit, you made the right choice. Whether times were good or times were bad, you always dealt openly, honestly, and fairly with your people. Guess what? They were paying attention. You built your integrity not on promises given but on promises kept. Your word was good. You delivered. And your people will always remember you for it.

“He inspired me to be my best”

There may have been times along the way when your people were mistaken about your high expectations and the way in which you pushed them to become better. They may have considered you to be unreasonable or too tough at the time. But you inspired them to be their best and to reach their full potential because you saw something in them that they didn’t see in themselves – like a diamond in the rough. But you didn’t let up and they rose to the occasion. At some point they bought in to your inspiration and they are the better for it. Wouldn’t you like to hear that conversation? Now, your legacy will live on through them.

“She left too soon”

How fitting it would be to know that when you left it was considered too soon by those who served with you. There’s no shortage of stories with bad endings when the leader leaves and there is a sigh of relief- but not so with you. Why? It’s because you were a real leader who walked among your people, built relationships, served with humility, led by example, insisted on excellence, and gave it your all.

When you leave it can be a cause for celebration or it can be a time of passing the torch to the leaders you have raised up. What your people will say about you is being decided by how you lead them today. What will they say when you leave?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson



About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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