All leaders want to create a legacy to leave for others who come along later, but many times we think of legacy as something like a memoir or autobiography. In other words, legacy is viewed as a retrospective narrative written after the fact – the historical account of what we aspired to do, accomplished, and left behind in our wake. Most people write those while in retirement.
But I think it is important that you not limit your legacy to a picture seen only in the rearview mirror. You don’t have to wait until your career is finished to look back over your life and understand the nature of your legacy. You can start to intentionally plant the seeds of legacy right now, and gradually build and expand upon that legacy right before your eyes.
I prefer to think of legacy not as something that only begins after you retire or move on, but as a positive force that you can share today, from moment to moment. Manage your legacy proactively and it will start growing in dynamically beneficial and memorable ways that help others on your team now, when it really counts toward boosting your leadership brand.
Every single day, through all of your many interactions, you are setting into motion a ripple effect that moves outward and expands, whether you realize it or not. There is the story about how when a butterfly flaps its wings in a jungle in South America it starts a chain reaction that can eventually cause a breeze to blow through the streets of New York City. The idea is that the world is connected in many ways, both seen and unseen. You may propose a good idea tomorrow morning within a board room in Atlanta that spreads to improve the performance of leaders in Charlotte, London, or Tokyo for decades into the future!
Or you may mentor someone within your organization who takes your lessons to heart and is inspired to innovate in ways that radically change your whole industry. Maybe you recognize a diamond in the rough and take that employee under your wing to develop their raw, untapped potential. Then they become a great talent scout and recruit hundreds of high potentials who all become outstanding leaders. The contributions they all make become an enduring tribute to your leadership legacy.
Perhaps you seek out your own mentor, for your own leadership development, and through that collaborative relationship you learn new strategies to share with your team. Soon each of those team members takes those tips and secrets to their own departments, committees, and work groups. They may even share them with charities where they volunteer or with school children eager to learn life lessons. Each time your ideas are replicated they generate another wave of productivity, performance, empowerment, and satisfaction.
In that way your personal investment of time, money, effort, and determination with your mentor or coach keeps getting repaid in a domino effect. Your legacy increases exponentially, radiating outward from the core of your own being to impact the lives of people you may never even meet. That’s the magical influence of the ripple and multiplier effect, and that’s why it is so rewarding to start seeding, planting, and cultivating your unique vision of legacy now.
To have that kind of extraordinary legacy footprint we need to lead in such a way that those who follow us will be continually developing their own talents and gifts. They’ll be constantly challenging themselves with new goals and dreams, and they’ll also be determined to pay it forward with gratitude. That’s your role as a leader, to promote and support those you lead. Exert that kind of positive and value-adding leadership presence and you’ll get to watch the results of your own living legacy blossom right before your eyes.
You also get credit for all of those powerful, sustainable, scalable initiatives – and that’s the rocket fuel that will propel your career with multiple Predictable Promotions. Become the architect and CEO of your professional destiny by becoming the intentional builder and director of your leadership legacy.
As Sir Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give.” The most fulfilled and rewarded leaders are those who make a living and make a life, both at the same time. That level of simultaneous satisfaction – from doing what you love and are good at while giving back to family, friends, and community – is the ultimate goal of work/life balance.
As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.
Copyright © 2012, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS
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