Coaching for the Future-Forward Leader
I feel that much of my leadership over the past few years has been crisis management. While I’m proud that we’ve achieved stability and growth in difficult times, that doesn’t feel like a lasting legacy. How can I make my mark here?
The notion of building a legacy is daunting because we frame it in terms of what we leave behind: the final tally of our accomplishments netting out as the inheritance we pass to the next generation. From this perspective, the idea of legacy is inherently transactional and creates the illusion that building legacy is all about posting great results.
Of course, creating new sources of value or transforming operations for greater sustainability may be part of the legacy you’ll be proud to leave behind. But this way of thinking about our legacies is also temporally disjunct. It makes our legacy appear far off, something that is manifest in the future. We forget that legacy is actually something we’re continually building in the present. And we do it in small moments, such as those monthly breakfasts you have with new hires to seek their perspectives, showing that they matter. It can be in the stories that you share, highlighting not only those who closed the deal but celebrating those whose assists enabled the win. It can happen when you mentor a colleague who’s experiencing a crisis of confidence.
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Instead of focusing on grand accomplishments, think about legacy as your presence in your absence. That doesn’t mean legacy is your memory living on — it’s more dynamic. Cultivating legacy as presence in absence means asking: How do you want the person you are now — your values, your imagination — to continue to helpfully animate the organization after you’ve left? How do you shape the culture of your company? Why are you doing this in the first place — what purpose drives you?
This shift in mindset accomplishes two big things. First, it reminds you that you are building your legacy every day, with intention, rather than just looking back to assess your accomplishments.
“Think about your last day on your first day” is how Andrea Hyde, former CEO of Draper James and Burch Creative Capital, put it to me.