CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - C-Suite Advisory - How to Achieve a Legacy Unimagined in Common Hours

C-Suite Advisory

How to Achieve a Legacy Unimagined in Common Hours

Whenever I consider offering customer experience consulting services to a prospective business client, I interview senior leadership and ask a lot of questions. I want to understand their motivation and what they hope to gain from the partnership.

Early in my career, I was so excited to be considered for work that I didn’t understand the importance of due diligence when connecting your brand with someone else’s business. In the context of my “goodness of fit” interview, I now ask questions like:

How do you wish to significantly impact the life of your people and customers?

How do you define corporate culture?

How do you see culture playing into your business objectives?

How will you define employee engagement and customer experience success?

And most importantly, what do you want your legacy to be?

Long before I asked these questions, then CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) Steve Cannon, declared in an article for Automotive News that his leadership legacy would be the transformation of MBUSA from a product-centric culture to one that was customer-obsessed.

I am honored to have said yes to Steve’s offer to work with him and his leadership team as they achieved his desired legacy by transforming MBUSA’s customer experience over a four year period jumping from 22nd to 1st on the JD Power Customer Service Index (the details of that transformation are chronicled in my book Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way).

So, what is it about Steve and others like him that fuel meteoric leadership impact? Here are a few qualities and behaviors, we can all apply:

Be Audacious/Dream Big

Small dreams cast small shadows. Spend time thinking about what you want to accomplish at the end of your career – for what you will want to be known. Leadership guru John Maxwell has said that people will remember our leadership impact “in one sentence, so write it now.” If you don’t design your career to deliver your desired impact, you will likely wobble about and leave an unintended legacy instead.

Declare It

Once you have your leadership destination in mind, make it public. You can publish it to a close confidant, a circle of trusted leaders, or in Steve Cannon’s case, in Automotive News and every stakeholder forum where it was relevant. Often people don’t make public declarations because they don’t want to be held accountable. The very fact that we share a commitment out loud increases the probability that we will act in accord with that declaration even when no one is looking.

Target and Track

Since you will have spent time considering your desired leadership legacy and will tell someone else you want to achieve that outcome, why not set short, mid-, and long-term targets? How else will you know if you’re making the progress you desire? For Steve Cannon, his proof would come through the observation of his team, customer feedback, internal metrics, and outside agencies who evaluated and benchmarked the Mercedes-Benz USA customer experience against competitors.


Develop at least one accountability partner and schedule times to assess progress with them. If progress toward your desired legacy is not occurring, a course correction can occur. If success is being achieved, victories can be celebrated.

Be Coachable

If you select a partner, listen to that person as they help you maximize your impact. Actively seek the guidance of others who are experts in the area you wish to master. In my new book about Airbnb titled The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community and Belonging, I share how the founders of a company that went from three air mattresses to a $38 billion valuation in approximately ten years sought coaching from diverse business leaders across industries.


In the Bible, gospel writer Luke shares, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” If one is given the opportunity to lead others, it seems reasonable that such an opportunity should come with the requirement to give back or pay it forward. When it comes to a lasting legacy, it can only be achieved by developing customer-focused leaders who, in turn, develop customer-focused leaders.

I know that lasting legacies come about in keeping with the insights of Henry David Thoreau’s when he noted:

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams

and endeavors to live the life he has imagined,

he will meet with success unimagined in common hours.

Whether it’s a leader at Mercedes-Benz, Airbnb, or someone like you, I am convinced that women and men who dream big, target & track progress toward their dreams, remain coachable, and mentor others will achieve legacies and impact that is “unimagined in common hours.”

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - C-Suite Advisory - How to Achieve a Legacy Unimagined in Common Hours
Joseph A. Michelli
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant. His insights encourage leaders and frontline workers to grow and invest passionately in all aspects of their lives. Dr. Michelli is the author of numerous national bestsellers, including The Starbucks Experience, The New Gold Standard, and the New York Times #1 bestseller Prescription for Excellence. He was named as one of the Top 10 thought leaders in Customer Service by Global Gurus. His new book is The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging (October 2019, McGraw Hill). Dr. Michelli is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.