The Wake We Leaders Leave Behind

Kindness Organizational leadership Respect Teamwork


True Story: (NOT from my current organization). An executive runs into her direct report on the elevator and it’s only the two of them going up 10 floors. The team member says a cheerful “good morning,” to her boss. The response from the so called leader… Nothing. She “ghosts” her employee by totally ignoring her. Why? Because she wants the employee to transfer or quit, and doesn’t want to pay severance. This executive somewhere learned that this disrespectful process is somehow a viable technique to restructure a team, or eliminate an employee. One thing this “big” boss did say to this same employee – “well if you lost a few pounds, you might have more energy.” Wow. Even though the details have been altered, I know the essence of the story is true, and a facsimile of this happens in many organizations TODAY.

Key Point: Leaders leave a wake behind them that people remember forever. And as acclaimed poet Maya Angelou famously noted: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. How will people remember you as a leader? How will you make them feel? 

I co-facilitate a leadership session about once a month in our organization. During the workshop, we ask people to talk about leaders that have had a positive or negative impact on them. The conversation immediately ignites and many stories are shared. The stories of leaders are about one positive to five negative. You can feel the heat of the negative stories by observing tears, flushed cheeks, head shaking, shrinking back in chairs, and much more. Often these recounted negative leadership stories are decades old, yet in an instant, the storyteller rapidly descends into the painful emotions of that experience. While the details of the memory may have diminished, the impact never goes away.

Leaders may benefit from being reminded about how much of an impact we have on how people feel. Sometimes we forget and think “it’s just business.” Yet, as we practically know, it’s never just business and ALWAYS personal.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Remind yourself what a privilege it is to lead, and that we have a lasting effect on how people feel (good and bad) under our leadership.
  2. Be intentional in defining your leadership brand. What will your leadership legacy be? One way or another, you will leave a wake behind you.

How you feel in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: I appreciate this and hope that leaders do realize they will leave a wake. However, to us Millennials, we should prepare and know that not all of our leaders will be aware or care about this. Bad leaders are going to happen. They just will. The cool part, is you can learn a whole lot about how NOT to lead from a superior doing a terrible job. It’s our job to keep learning no matter what the circumstance.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis