By Tanner Corbridge (@TannerCorbridge), author, and expert on driving organizational results through purpose and culture

A corporate legacy -- defined as the lasting imprint left by a leader after his or her departure -- is an extension of corporate culture, and it shapes attitudes and behavior among individual employees as well as on a broader, organization-wide scale. Leadership legacy is simply the way a leader is remembered after his or her departure and is, perhaps, the best measure of the impact of a leader.

As leaders prepare to move on from the company they helped build, they must come head-to-head with a big, often difficult-to-answer question: What have I done to ensure my company will achieve its founding mission and thrive into the future? In order to confidently answer this question, leaders must focus their efforts on establishing a deep-rooted culture -- one that will continue to cultivate the mindsets and behaviors required for future growth. We'd suggest following these four steps to lay the cultural groundwork for your organization's long-term growth.

1. Prioritize principled leadership over tactical leadership.

Many leaders understand the tactical element of leadership, which consists of creating expectations, following up on those expectations, and holding people accountable to deliver on tasks. This leadership style is a dime a dozen.

More important to one's leadership legacy is the practice of principled leadership. Leaders who follow this approach create "space" around them. In other words, they spend time talking about principles, and then allow individuals to self-select how they act in accordance with those principles. While the logistics of accountability can be managed through tactical leadership, which may include incentive systems or promotional initiatives, principled leadership lays the groundwork for a culture in which people take accountability for what needs to be done and act in a manner that reflects the values of the business. Principled leaders truly understand the impact of culture -- they know that if they are able to shape cultural beliefs, they can unify their organization and leave a lasting legacy.

2. Define and model your cultural beliefs.

Creating a leadership legacy requires leaders to clearly define and embody their company's cultural norms. Leaders who boil down and articulate the central tenets that define their desired culture can better communicate their vision to every employee at every level of the organization.

At a 2015 commencement speech at George Washington University, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "It's about finding your values and committing to them. It's about finding your North Star." Your cultural values act as a constitution for your company. Leaders must actively commit to infusing these cultural beliefs into their own behavior. Culture is solidified when those at the top of a company consistently act as a model for all employees, inspiring unity that can carry the organization forward in years to come.

3. Examine the systems that contradict your desired culture.

It may be easy to kickstart a cultural change initiative in your organization -- hosting a seminar or putting up flyers about your organization's "culture of trust," for example. But this isn't going far enough. To truly change a culture, leaders must take a closer look at the surprising ways in which their organization's systems, policies, reporting requirements, and other business practices may actually be contradicting and inhibiting progress towards its cultural beliefs.

For instance, imagine that one of your company's defined cultural beliefs is organization-wide trust -- yet a company director is required to receive six sign offs from higher ups on a $50 expense. The director is bumping into a policy that betrays the desired culture.

This is why it's important to go beyond defining and discussing cultural beliefs. Leaders must examine their company's day-to-day operations and modify protocols or practices that contradict the company's desired cultural beliefs. When your cultural values inform every policy and are truly integrated into your organizational structure, employees begin to believe that you're serious about living your cultural beliefs.

Laying Out a Legacy Roadmap

Leaders who hope to leave an influential corporate legacy must be intentional about principled leadership, defining and living out cultural beliefs, and bringing organizational practices in line with these beliefs. They must also have a plan to pull it all together.

To achieve a highly integrated culture and a unified organization, company leaders should consider a development course like the revolutionary Lead Culture program, which aims to transform culture by creating alignment and deeper accountability for achieving change

Published on: Aug 16, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.