Trees growing symbolizing legacy at work

What Will be Your Leadership Legacy?

Legacy is a funny thing. It’s a term used more and more in organizations when executives or senior management are in their mid- to late career.

Their bosses will ask, or they’ll ask themselves,…

“What do you want your legacy to be?”

But what does that even mean? As Merriam-Webster Dictionary states it: leg·​a·​cy | \ ˈle-gə-sē  – anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor. 
And as I’ve heard it relate to the corporate world, it’s translated to mean:
“What impression or impact will you leave behind?”
“What will you be remembered for?”
“What will outlast you?”
Now a lot of “leaders” will start thinking of innovators like Steve Jobs and his introduction of user friendly technology like the iPhone, or Walt Disney and his theme parks and animation studios, or Brene Brown for her ideas and research on vulnerability and bravery. But if that’s what you’re measuring against, you’re already on the wrong path.

What many may not realize is that “legacy” ship, that’s attached to milestones and events, has probably already sailed if you’re waiting until the last years of your career to start considering it. Truthfully, your legacy isn’t in the milestones you’ve achieved, or the money you’ve saved the company or the big events you planned, it’s in the people you’ve impacted by how you made them feel and the health of the organization.

TRUE LEGACY

There are many who come and go from organizations, and before they left they created a new program or process that really improved the company. But time passes on. And no one will remember those people and what initiatives they were associated with. New staff won’t know who they are and others are too busy in their own work to really care after a while. And those impactful programs and processes? They’ll get stale over time and need to be revamped or removed as new technology forces them to change or become obsolete.

True legacy is in the people you’ve impacted and influenced. It’s the feelings they have for you when your name is brought up and the things they say about you when you leave the room. If you want a great legacy, focus on the relationships and the support you provide others in their journey.

THE DARK SIDE

Having a legacy doesn’t always mean good things.

I have worked for a few individuals, who may have gone on to other things, but left a horrible legacy. When their name is mentioned, many only feel anger and frustration from the time they worked with them. Now those people may have created amazing things before and after they left the organization, they may have been a great mentor to some, or they may have gone on to change as a person after leaving the organization, but their legacy is still based on personal and negative interactions. That’s the impression they left behind.

One “leader” sat in their office, a room that was between the communal work spaces of his staff, and rather than email, instant message, or come out and engage with his team, he would yell from his desk if he needed something. Many years later, I can’t remember how good he was at his job or how he inspired me to be a better leader, but I do remember him yelling.

I use him as a cautionary tale of how not to lead. That is his legacy.

LIKE HAVING A KID

Many will think about children, when they think of legacy. Let’s use that as an example.

Is your legacy the fact that you had a kid (result)? Or is your legacy that the child grew up to be a bully (dark side)? Or is your legacy that your children are amazing people who are amazing to other people?

Replace “child” with “organization”. Is your legacy the job you did (result), the projects you finished (result) or the amazing future leaders you helped create that will contribute to the ongoing health of the company (people)?

What kind of life do you want your organization to have and what are you doing to make it a healthy one?

INFINITE vs FINITE MINDSET

To truly build a lasting, positive legacy, it’s important to have an infinite mindset.

Following on the theories of Dr. James Carson, Simon Sinek wrote a book on the importance of the infinite game mindset over the finite mindset. Those that play with a finite mindset are looking to win something, to defeat someone else, to check a box. Sports games easily fall under this category with a focus on wins/losses and stats to show who’s better than whom. But many leaders also take this approach within organizations. Whether it is to “crush the competition” or to win awards or to “just finish this so I can move on to the next thing.” Sinek argues that an infinite approach is far better and healthier for leaders and the organization. He uses the example of a marriage, where no one is a winner or a loser, but rather consists of people working together to improve and strengthen the relationship.

“Players with an infinite mindset want to leave their organizations in better shape than they found them.” – Simon Sinek

Are you results-oriented or people-oriented? As mentioned before, focusing on the former, can hurt the latter. But, focusing on the latter can only improve the former… and help build a great legacy.

I remember years ago, talking to a friend of mine who worked in an executive office. We were discussing the work of another member of the C-suite and my friend remarked how great they were, how effective they were and how productive they were. Yet her perspective was from the top down, not the bottom up. She saw the tip of the iceberg, only what this person did for her and her office (the results), not how she got them (the people). This person was known more for bullying, intimidation and a lack of respect for those doing the work to impossible deadlines. My friend saw the results, not the wreckage. My friend and this executive were both working with a finite mindset.

An infinite approach is about inspiring your team people to solve problems to the best of their abilities, helping them learn from their mistakes, giving them all the kudos for their success, connecting their work to its value and to be leaders who lead.

BUILDING YOUR LEGACY

As you look to build your legacy in your organization, here are a few things to keep in mind to build a successful one:

  1. Create and nurture other great leaders – I’ve heard the term “leaders create leaders” but I’d like to clarify the importance of creating great leaders. There are many who fall into positions of leadership that are ill-suited (think Michael from The Office) and they aren’t bettering the organizational health. Great leaders do. Make those.
  2. Recognize and elevate those around you – as a leader, your job isn’t to make your boss happy, it’s to create the space for your team and others to grow and thrive in. Take every opportunity to brag about your team, give kudos to others at every opportunity, and appreciate the time and work your coworkers put in.
  3. Lead with curiosity and collaboration – everyone has something to contribute and the only way you understand and appreciate their value is by connecting without ego, asking questions and looking for opportunities to work together. You’ll be remembered for it.
  4. Foster self- and situational awareness – one of your greatest super powers is knowing yourself and knowing your environment. This knowledge and how it informs your interactions with others is one of your most effective legacy tools. For example, be aware and a-tuned to how:
    • you react in any given situation,
    • your actions influence others,
    • others receive information and interpret it,
    • corporate culture has an effect on someone’s career,
    • historical decisions have challenged the present and future, and so much more. 

Leave your organization healthier than when you joined it. That is the legacy you should fight for every day.

 

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