My inspiration for this post grew from the activities of the past week, during which my wife and I had the opportunity to babysit two of the Wolfpups) for a few days.  While we made them breakfast on Friday morning, they were watching a PBS program entitled,  “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That”.  The episode considers the footprints of animals, and challenges identification through a comparison of sizes and shoes.  At one point in the program the Cat in the Hat remarks, “Your footprint is the impression you make.”  I thought about that from a leadership perspective.  What do we want our leadership footprint to look like and what impact do we hope it makes?

Rebecca Newton considers this question in her HBR digital article,What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?  According to Newton, our current approach to leadership development focuses on facilitating and encouraging self-awareness (What kind of leader you are), sharing knowledge and ideas from what has worked (what kind of leader you should be), and then developing the requisite skills and adopting the new behaviors to become that kind of leaders. Unfortunately this approach fails to focus on the most central components to successful leadership – Leadership intent (the kind of leader you want to be) and leadership impact (the legacy you will leave).  She refers to these two components as your “Leadership Footprint”

Think about it, an architect that must consider, early in the planning phase, the impact a building’s footprint may leave upon the environment.  A  young entrepreneur’s business plan gives consideration to the positive impact their organization’s footprint will have for  local charities.  However, it is rarely the case that leaders take the time early in a career to consider their leadership footprint. Newton agrees, “Many have thought about leadership footprint at some point, but few have defined it clearly enough to guide their behavior and evaluate their “success”  So how is this done?

Newton makes it clear that there is no set criteria for leadership success. It is something you define for yourself through a journey that provides time, space, and permission to ask for help when needed.  This process enables you to define the intent (the kind of leader you want to be) and the culture of leadership you want to build around.  By assessing and adapting through self-observation and the feedback of others, how you are living up to your intent, you create your impact (the legacy you want to leave).

Are you the leader you want to be, or the leader that has emerged from what others expect you to be?  If your legacy was to be written tomorrow, would it be what you wanted?  Think about what the Cat in the Hat said, “Your footprint is the impression you make!”  What does your footprint say about you?

Embrace the Challenge