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Your leadership today affects your legacy tomorrow

October 12, 2020

By Randy Hall


As I work with leaders at different stages of their careers, I find that things shift a bit as to what is most important to them.

Sometimes they begin in a place where they are most focused on achievement - what they can accomplish and do.  Then they progress to an impact phase where they start to think more about how they can make things happen for others or the business.  They begin to measure success based more on their impact on other people or things, rather than their own achievements.  Then ultimately, they tend to think about legacy.  Not just what impact I can have today, but what I can do that represents lasting change.  What is better or different because I was here, yet lives beyond my direct ability to influence it on a daily basis?

Not every leader shifts in this way.  I have certainly known some that focus on achievement even late in their career, and that doesn’t make them bad or wrong, just different. 

I have also known a few that focus on legacy right from the start.  They work throughout their career focused on what they can do to impact lasting change, and how they can affect those around them to become better at what they do, how they think, or what they are capable of for their entire lives.

The mindset we bring to leadership, changes how we do it.

Those leaders tend to think longer term and execute more patience in the way they interact with others.  They think more about how they can get another human to shift his or her thinking, more than they focus on how they can get them to execute a task differently.

They nurture people on a journey with learning, growth, and development prioritized at a higher level than today’s effectiveness or level of execution.

It doesn’t mean that execution isn’t important, just that tomorrow’s execution is even more important.

All of these things are good.  Achievement, impact, and legacy are all important components of leadership results, and learning how to become a better leader as we deliver on each of those is critical to our success and the success of those around us.  But thinking about the legacy we want to leave, the sustainable shifts that we want to cause, the better future that we want to contribute to, can cause us to lead in ways that change the game, not just play a better game.

Here are some questions you can use to consider your legacy as a leader, no matter where you are on your leadership journey.

What do I want people on my team to say about me 10 years from now?

We all tend to positively remember that one teacher, or one friend, or one leader that created a real shift in our thinking, or taught us some kind of lifelong lesson.  Consider how you can become that kind of person for others along the way.

What do I want people to be able to teach others because of my interactions with them?

This question allows us to focus as much on what others learn, as what they do.  It’s easy to get trapped in what we need to get done, but we also want to think about how we get better.  The other concept this question helps us consider is how we teach the process of improvement to people, rather than just give them the instructions or tell them what to do next. Learning and capability help us accomplish this month's goals, but they also last beyond any short term accomplishments, and if people can teach a thing, they have learned it at an entirely different level.

If you can write out the answers to those 2 questions, the next question to consider is:

If I want to make those things happen, what do I need to focus on each month, each week, and each day?  And how do I get the learning and execution of those things on my calendar?

This is the game changer for any leader.  Connecting that vision of the future with the activities that are on the schedule today.  Both the learning and the doing activities.  Find me a leader who has time dedicated each week to learning how to be a better leader, and I will show you a leader who will leave a tremendous legacy.

Most leaders want to make a difference.  Our challenge is to make a lasting difference as well as an immediate difference.  Our legacy lives in the choices we make today about how we lead, what we focus on, and how we improve.  Those choices are ours to make.

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