Over a 15 years executive coaching hundreds of smart and gifted professionals, when it comes to answering the ‘What would you love to do, if you could?’ question, the answer is always the same.

'I want to make a difference’

But when I ask, ‘What sort of difference?’ the answer is often, "Ummm... , not sure..., don't know..." vague and unclear.

Yet, given you’ll likely spend over 100,000 hours at work, job satisfaction and progression rely on your ability to make a unique, positive and tangible contribution to something that really matters.

The Cost of NOT Knowing Your Leadership Legacy

Your leadership legacy is simply the difference only you can make.  Combining your unique combination of skills, experience, personality and passions, it’s what people remember most about you, long after you’ve gone.

Sadly, many hardworking leaders never know the real difference they make. It’s not until their loved ones are writing their obituary or reading their eulogy, their legacy becomes clear.

And quite frankly, that’s too late!

What if the thing you’re remembered most for isn’t what you’d have chosen or wanted?

Without consciously knowing and creating your leadership legacy, retirement may bring wistful regret that you’d done something else, more or differently.  Opportunities and risks not taken often overshadow success and achievement.

While you’ll still contribute in a different way, the opportunity to use your work as a vehicle will have passed you by and again... that's too late.

Your Leadership Legacy Reveals Your Purpose

Many people are unaware of their real purpose – the very reason they were put on this earth.  It seems like such a big and overwhelming question to answer.

But without knowing our true purpose, we tend to drift through jobs and life wishing, waiting and hoping for opportunities to do something meaningful.

But here’s the thing…

When you know the legacy you want to leave and the difference you want to make, your purpose reveals itself.

And the flow-on benefits mean you’ll never be stuck again:

  • Decisions become easier and quicker to make – it’s easier to say ‘no’ to opportunities that don’t match the difference you make
  • Clarity, certainty and self-confidence blossom – your legacy and purpose are grounded in who you are
  • Job satisfaction, fulfillment and recognition become self-sustaining – you actively seek and find ways to do more of what you love.

What Others Will Remember Most

Your purpose and leadership legacy reflect your values, beliefs, principles and the type of person you are.   When Andrew, a long-serving, hard-working senior leader accepted a new role in another organisation, the big farewell card signed by his team included messages like:

  • You’re such a generous teacher… I learnt so much from you that I’ll always remember
  • You showed me how to persevere, especially when things were tough – "Eyes on the prize" and "Keep smiling no matter what!"
  • You believed in me, even when I doubted myself or didn’t think I could do it.

Andrew’s leadership legacy was a team he built from scratch who successfully and consistently delivered against the odds.  More importantly, he helped each team member be the best they could be.

Although he didn’t realise it until he consciously reflected on this, teaching, encouraging and believing in others is at the core of who Andrew is and what he does.  It’s something he can’t not do!

"People will forget what you said,

People will forget what you did,

But people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

All well and good but you’re probably wondering, "How do I ‘create a legacy’ and be valued for what I do?"Good news…

You’re already doing it!

Every decision you make, action you take and conversation you have is shaping your legacy.  Consciously choosing and defining it  (rather than letting it morph into something you don't want), will ensure you have the impact you want to have.

Create the Legacy YOU Want

Successful leaders do three things to create a meaningful legacy:

  1. They are aware of and know what they’re good at, love doing and the difference it makes.
  2. They deliberately take every opportunity to do just that, whenever they can.
  3. They are consistent. In a leadership context, a legacy isn’t a one off, grand gesture.  It’s the difference you make to something that matters to you, over and over again.

Let’s step out of the office to see how this works in life.  Here are two very different people, creating two equally meaningful legacies:

When Sophie Murphy boarded a late Sunday evening flight to Melbourne, she didn’t know she was going to feature in global newspapers and social media feeds for what she did the following day.

Calming an anxious teenager with Down’s Syndrome won her the gratitude, appreciation and respect from his family, the cabin crew and her fellow passengers.

But to Sophie, with over 20 years teaching experience, it was no big deal.  It’s just what she does, every day at work. Yet, her actions and how she helped will always be remembered by those who were there.

In the sky above Melbourne, special needs teacher comes to the rescue

Sopie's Leadership Legacy

Image Source:  Sydney Morning Herald / Photo: Paul Jeffers

And then there’s Alan…

The late Alan Ricman may not fully know the impact he had on a young Daniel Radcliffe who shot to fame as Harry Potter.

Although Richman was a talented, multi-award winning actor, Radcliffe’s personal tribute reveals that it was Richman's loyalty, encouragement, support, kindness, generosity and respect that had the greatest impact.

Daniel Radcliffe how to create a powerful legacy

"Leadership Legacy -  It’s not what you do, it’s HOW you do it that counts and will be remembered, long after you've gone.” 

Caroline Cameron

How to Craft Your Leadership Legacy

Ironically, it’s often not until you announce your resignation that you actually discover the real difference you’ve made.

Those last few days of farewell lunches, speeches, emails, cards and conversations provide a real-time window into your leadership legacy and impact.  Whilst graciously accepting warm wishes, ask your colleagues specifically what you did that made a difference.

  1. Collate all the comments, emails and farewell cards you’ve received whenever you’ve left a job.
  2. Identify the common themes. What are the sentiments that appear most often?
  3. Match these with what you love and do effortlessly and what matters most to you
  4. Think of the best leaders you've worked with and for -  those you truly admire.  What can you learn and include in your legacy?
  5. Write a Leadership Legacy Statement and keep it with you as a constant reminder of what you want to create and leave behind
  6. Consciously apply your Leadership Legacy to every role, decision, conversation and action from now on.

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How to Create YOUR Leadership Legacy

Over time, you’ll deliberately build the reputation you want; make the difference you were born to make and create a legacy that makes it all worth doing.

So, now I’m wondering…

How will you leave a legacy worth remembering, long after you've moved on?

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron
About Caroline

Caroline Cameron is an award winning, master certified executive, career and business team coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. Caroline is on a mission to help mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

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