Speaking with leaders from every walk of life, the idea of our own legacy – the enduring and lasting mark that we will leave on the world – seems to loom large in many people’s minds.
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. Whether we consciously consider it or not, the reality is, through the roles we hold, we are creating a lasting influence on the people, organisations and causes that 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 your leadership legacy be?
Start with Intention
If you’ve ever wondered about your own legacy, the sort of questions that might come to mind are:
- What role(s) am I playing in life?
- How will I measure my own success? and,
- How do I want to remembered?
When we help leaders to reflect on these types of questions, what tends to surface are the core values of that leader. That is, the things that they most believe in, and in which they choose to invest their time and energy. Often these values may lead us to work in certain fields, or to start a business. But for many of us, they simply act as our internal code of conduct, for how we operate and interact with others across every facet of our lives.
The important thing is to really think about these questions for ourselves: who are we really, and what do we stand for? This self-awareness is such a critical component of leadership – without it, we aren’t able to draw on the knowledge of what matters most to help inform our decisions, and we lack the guiding principles for how we ‘show up’ every day. If you haven’t before (or haven’t for a long time) considered these types of questions, take some time to reflect and write your answers down. In doing so, you are taking a big step towards setting your intention for what you want your legacy to be.
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!). A large part of your reputation and brand as a leader, is informed by the perceptions of those you lead. When it comes to your specific role as a leader – either of your own business, or of the people you lead – 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 make decisions and 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 and decisions that ultimately shape how we are perceived by those around us. In this way, legacy is created by many ‘defining moments’ throughout your career. These may include the really big decisions (what strategy we set, who we appoint into key roles, when and how we expand), through to less extreme 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 have not). Throughout these moments, we must lead consistently in line with who we aspire to be – that is the heart of authenticity. Do this, and your legacy will take care of itself. Equally, you can spend an entire career building a legacy that can be undone in an instant, through either inaction (failing to stand up for something you believe in), or a single act that is misaligned with your values and everything you have stood for in the past.
Legacy is not something we should chase in and of itself – it is a byproduct of everything else we do throughout our career and life. In the book 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 lived actions we take every day. With this in mind, some of the commitments we can all make might 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
At Business Chicks, part of our vision is all about helping women to play a bigger game. With this in mind, 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 we can all shape (and many of us are already!) is to be the type of leader who strives to influence the system in which we all operate, to ensure a better experience for the women in business who will follow after us. Surely, that’s a legacy that we can all aspire to share together.