The other day I found myself listening to a tribute to Raylene Rankin, one of the Rankin Family members, who
passed away recently in her early 50’s. I was particularly moved by her song “We Rise Again” which in light of her pending death immediately drove home something we are all very aware of….the fragility of life. Thus, while the song speaks of passing, it also speaks of the legacy we desire to leave behind……how we want to be remembered.

The song also made me think of Steve Jobs and his recent death. I was truly impressed by what I heard or read regarding what a fabulously creative and innovative soul he was; yet, in the same breath or sentence I’d hear or read a commentary on his reputation as a taskmaster and psychological abuser of employees. It’s sad that the two characteristics tend to be mouthed in virtually the same sentence. How much more admired would Jobs be if he had accomplished what he did without having to demean others to achieve global business success and notoriety?

Thinking of your job in terms of how you want to be remembered presents the opportunity for a different way to look at your work, what you want to accomplish and how you want to be remembered. Instead of focusing only on day-to-day tasks, “leading a legacy” helps you to focus on the bigger picture and take a more holistic view of your work. Consider your own job, your team, your department, the leadership, and how these pieces are interconnected to make the organization whole. How will you leave your lasting impression?

Certainly, our legacy is most often expressed through our families, friends and community. At the same time, given that many of us devote so much of our time to our work, to what extent does “legacy thinking” impact our conduct and decision-making. In an unscientific survey of a number of my clients, very few had given serious thought to the legacy they want to leave in their work world, yet they agreed that bringing the thought of legacy to the forefront would indeed impact actions and decisions.

When asked for examples of how they might function differently, here are some they provided (in summary format):’

  1. spending more time mentoring top performers rather than being pre-occupied by under-performers who will ultimately have significantly less impact on the future of the enterprise; indeed, taking action much earlier on under-performers who will deleteriously affect both to the company’s performance, reputation and the effectiveness of others;
  2. resisting the impulse to make investments in business opportunities which aren’t core to the business because “the deal was too good to pass up”;
  3. investing significant energy in formulating a strategic plan which is predicated on a long term vision for the organization which, in turn, is linked to the purpose of the enterprise, rather than simply focusing on next year’s strategy….which was characterized by one person as “more of the same”;
  4. examining the challenges that will shape the company in the coming years; asking the question, “does my organization have the infrastructure, intellectual capital, and culture to meet these challenges and what do I need to focus on now to create a sustainable and bright future”;
  5. recognizing that one’s legacy is about more than the accomplishments compiled; it’s about relationships built, always giving the best of yourself and being strong for others;
  6. in negotiating a contract, a deal, whatever, do you want to “win” at all cost or be remembered as someone who dealt with integrity;
  7. do you give up if you lose at something or do you bear down and learn from the experience; are you a role model for others;

Another conclusion I have arrived at through these discussions with my clients is don’t ever stop in your pursuit of a legacy. Many have accomplished tremendous things later on in life. Warren Buffet and Colonel Harland Sanders are just 2 well known examples of business people who embarked on their magnificent careers later in life. Also, there is never a time to stop in your pursuit of a legacy. You’ll occasionally hear, “I am 65. I’ll never change.” That won’t build a great life! No, there is always time to do more and achieve more, to help more and serve more, to teach more and to learn more. Keep going and growing that legacy!