Speaking with leaders of all ages and stages of career, the idea of our legacy – the enduring and lasting mark we will leave on the world – seems to loom large in many people’s minds, not just those who are nearing retirement! Whether in business, within the community, and even within our personal lives, there seems to be an urge within people to consider the impact their lives will have on others and the world around them. The reality is, through the roles we hold and the actions we take, we are creating a lasting influence on the people, organisations and causes we are involved in, which will one day add up to something others perceive to be our legacy. So, if you have never before stopped and asked yourself the question, now is the time – what will be your leadership legacy?
Your Legacy as a Leader
Just as organisations have strong expectations placed upon them in relation to their environmental/social footprint, leaders too need to consider the ‘footprint’ they leave behind them as a result of their actions and decisions. Leadership by definition is about how others perceive you as a leader (versus how you see yourself!). When it comes to your contribution as a leader, the question of your legacy may relate to questions such as:
- In which direction are you leading your business? And why?
- How are you choosing to operate? With what impact on the environment/community?
- What impact are you having on the market and your consumers? and,
- How would your team describe you as a leader?
In relation to the impact we have on our team, think about those leaders in your own careers who encouraged you, gave you the opportunities you needed and backed you when you most needed it. How can you show up as that type of leader, for others? What might be getting in the way of you being able to do that? Remembering that, those with the greatest legacies are often those who have made a permanent mark in the hearts of those they have led and influenced, through what they have said or done for that person.
Legacy is the end result of the actions you take and choices you make, every day.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.” In other words, we can all talk the talk, but it is our accumulative actions that ultimately shape how we are perceived by those around us. Legacy is really a byproduct of everything we do throughout our career and life. In A Leader’s Legacy, Kouzes and Posner shared the following: “Legacies are not the result of wishful thinking. They are the results of determined doing. The people you see, the decisions you make, and the actions you take – they are what will tell your story”. This is the understanding that our legacy is shaped not by our intentions or aspirations, but by the actions we take every day. These may include the really big decisions (what strategy we set, who we appoint into key roles, when and how we expand), through to smaller, but equally impactful actions (challenging the status quo in a meeting, taking a firm stand on a contentious issue, encouraging others to step up in ways they didn’t think they could).
With this in mind, some of the commitments that you could make as a leader may include the following:
- Consistently act in line with your values and beliefs (walk your talk!);
- Stand up for what you believe in, especially in those tough moments;
- Help others be even greater than they are today. Whether through coaching, sharing knowledge or being their source of encouragement;
- Pay it forward. Find ways to pass on the opportunities you have been fortunate to receive, so that others may equally benefit and in turn, have an even greater impact on the world around them.
Plant the seeds you will never see grow
One way of thinking about your own legacy might be about how you can leave your profession, your team or your business in a better place than when you started. There are many philosophies that honour the idea that we have a responsibility to those who have come before us, and those who will follow after us, to do the right thing; even if it is the hard thing and even if we ourselves will not immediately benefit. So perhaps part of the legacy you will leave is by being the type of leader who strives to positively influence the system in which you and others operate, to ensure better experiences and outcomes for those who will follow in years to come.