As I sat down the other night to write another blog posting for my company’s internal social media platform, I thought to myself what would happen if I were to stop. Stop blogging. Stop Tweeting. Stop evangelizing. Stop everything related to social media. What would happen if I took a job in another industry where social media wasn’t a key component of the job? What would happen to all of the blog posts that I’ve done? What would happen to all of the people on my social media team at Booz Allen? What would happen to the social media practice there?
What’s my legacy if I were to leave my company? Specifically, what’s my social media legacy? People tend to think that their value to their organization is directly proportional to the amount of destruction that would occur in their absence. Not only is this not true, it’s the exact opposite of what you should want your legacy to be. Indulge me with the following analogy – when Bill Cowher retired from the Pittsburgh Steelers after an 8-8 season in 2007, he was widely considered one of the best coaches in the league. In Pittsburgh, his retirement was met with loads of “the sky is falling” criticism. Cowher was one of the best coaches in the league – what would the Steelers do without him? When Mike Tomlin took over as the new Steelers coach, he retained a majority of the coaching staff. Without Cowher, the team didn’t fall apart, the team didn’t collapse. In fact, the team got better – they went 10-6 in Tomlin’s first year. Compare this to Lloyd Carr and who retired from the University of Michigan after going 9-4 in 2007. Rich Rodriguez took over and in his first season, is 3-7 and on his way to leading the Wolverines to one of the worst records in their history. Who would you say was the more valuable coach – the one who created an organization that could be successful even without him or the one who created an organization that fell apart without him? Do you look at Bill Cowher as any less of a coach because the team didn’t implode without him?
This concept doesn’t just apply to sports teams though. Applied to the government, this is akin to those leaders who create new initiatives in their last year of office because they want to leave a legacy. How many of these efforts continue after they’re gone? Have they created something that’s going to continue to benefit the organization even after they’re gone, or something that’s going to have a short-term benefit, but will ultimately fail without someone driving it? Take a look at something like Intellipedia which was founded by Don Burke and Sean Dennehy more than two years ago. They’ve fostered a environment in which dozens of collaboration leaders from across the Intelligence Community have emerged to not only sustain the Intellipedia vision, but also to build upon it. What started out as just a wiki now includes social bookmarking, social networking, blogs, and most importantly, a culture of collaboration that will continue even if one or two pieces is taken away.
I am openly challenging myself as well as every other social media evangelist who is reading this post to be like Bill Cowher. Have you helped develop other leaders who are capable of taking the reins if you’re gone? Have you shared your skills and knowledge with others throughout your organization who will help ensure the success of your efforts after you leave? Have you helped create a successful organization full of others like you? What’s going to be your social media legacy?