Dr Edmond Locard (13 December 1877 – 4 April 1966) was a famous French scientist—many people know him for the pioneering work he carried out in the field of forensic science but many more will have never heard of him. ‘Locard’s Exchange Principle’, as it has become known, is taught on almost every forensic science course around the globe. Locard once rather beautifully wrote:
“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his but his hair, the fibres from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool marks he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.”
So what has this to do with leadership?
Locard’s Exchange Principle, beautiful though it is, has usefully been condensed over the years into the idea that “Every contact leaves a trace” and it is this condensed version that tends to resonate within the sphere of leadership.
As a leader, like the criminal, every contact also leaves a trace but, unlike the criminal, the leader has the choice about what trace they leave behind. Does the leader, however, have any choice in what trace they take from their followers? If they do, what trace is that and what do you as a leader choose to take with you?
My challenges to you as a leader are:
- What trace do you want to leave and what trace do you actually leave as a leader? Are they different, and if so, why?
- What do your followers remember of you?
- What “evidence” do you want to leave at the scene and what do you want to take with you?
- What will your leadership legacy be?
Personally, I have had some lasting traces left with me from awful people purporting to be leaders, and actually shouldn’t have been given the role they had, and yet, in an almost perverse way, these have taught me as much about leadership as those role models who I regard highly.
I wonder what others experiences have been and what ‘traces’ have been left on them or that they have left upon others?
For the leader, unlike the criminal, not all traces taken away are a bad thing Unless, of course, the leader cannot identify them as negative traces and, without wishing to jump into the obvious link to followership theory here, do the traces taken by the leader make the leader?
I find these questions fascinating and they are central to a line of leadership development that I have explored for almost 10 years now.
- Listen to the Evolve to Succeed podcast with Paul Kinkaid here.