Leaving a Legacy

Dan Graham is the CEO of BuildASign.com where he oversees the growth strategy and plays a key role in the company’s philanthropic efforts and talent acquisition. He is also a winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2013 Central Texas award, a recipient of the Austin Business Journal’s 2012 Best CEO Award, and was named 2012 Austinite of the Year and the Business and Entrepreneurship category winner by Austin Under 40, recognizing his success as a business owner as well as his commitment to philanthropic work.

Quite literally, a legacy is defined as “something of value being left by a predecessor,” but do you know what it means to truly leave a legacy? Because I’m not so sure.

I’m 32-years-old, the owner of a company that employs over 250 people, the father to two adorable daughters (the second due any day now), and a husband to one hell of a woman. Based on that, one could consider me a leader.

But to whose standard are we to craft our leadership? Our predecessors’? As a leader, you have an opportunity to both subtly and overtly influence others and expand your impact well beyond your organization. This opportunity is yours to seize, so seize it well.

As with most things, the way we lead is largely determined by our surroundings. Leadership really changes with the organization quite a bit depending not only on the individual, but on the state of the company as well. The ability to figure out how you should lead, in what role, and at what time is one of the key foundational elements to hone in on legacy-leaving leadership.

With a start-up for instance, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, jump in, and do whatever it takes. In the beginning, the focus is wholly about how to get your business off the ground, and doing whatever work is needed to get there. As you grow into an established business, your leadership becomes less about doing anything and everything and much more about strategy.
Now that you’re off the ground, it’s time to fly. You’ll find yourself actively pursuing the more external benefiting factors like community involvement, giving, professional development, as well as the hiring of brilliant candidates and the removing of obstacles so that you are comprehensively supporting your teams and their efforts to be successful.

When BuildASign.com was first emerging, I was completely out of my element. There I was, a young computer programmer attempting to rewrite the way standard manufacturing and production processes were being practiced. As an entrepreneur, seeing your idea come to life is everything. So, aligning with the aforementioned rules of thumb, I rolled up my sleeves, jumped in… and made a lot of mistakes. But what good is being a leader if you’re not leading by example? I wanted my employees to know no fear, be innovative, and plant that desire for continuous learning and improvement. It is our duty as business leaders to encourage our teams to find success and satisfaction in their efforts by being their whole selves, every day. Now, I have had the great privilege of working with an executive team who are bright, forward-thinking folks that carry an air of entrepreneur-ism with every decision they make.

So, when asked what “legacy” I hope to be leaving on the people who follow my lead, I say this: I’m still not so sure, but I do know that if I want to succeed as a business owner, I need to be a living example of what to do and how to be in order to achieve that success.

Today’s post is the seventh of the SOS Leadership Men Who Lead Blog Series. The purpose of this blog series is to share the stories and insights of men who are answering the call to leadership in their lives. Come back each Friday to read more!

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