Every entrepreneur and business leader waits too long before really working on the legacy that he wants to leave to society and his family. They realize too late that they don’t really want to be remembered for how many hours they spent on airplanes, how many emails they produced, or even how much money they made for the business.
If you disappeared today, what would your legacy show? What have you done for others? If you are not thinking in these terms, you may be making a mistake as a leader. Bill Gates will probably be more remembered in fifty years for his Foundation to save lives in developing countries, than Steve Jobs for his “insanely great” consumer technology advances.
In a classic book on this subject “Leading with Your Legacy In Mind,” Andrew Thorn, PhD, business coach, and psychologist, talks about his work on leadership strategies with business leaders at all levels. I espouse the “legacy continuum” that he outlines for every leader to reframe over time how their efforts should be spent, for purposes of kicking their legacy up a notch or two:
- From passion to purpose. “Just follow your passion” only takes us so far. Passion can ultimately blind us, while purpose reminds us of how we can connect our strengths with the people and environments that will most appreciate and benefit from our skills and abilities. It focuses us on what we can give instead of what we can get.
- From change to growth. Leaders often forget that change is hard for anyone. The only time we really like change if when we are acting as the change agents and inviting others to change. Growth, on the other hand, is most simply defined as change by natural development. Growth is natural for everyone, as a symbol of individual maturity.
- From goals to aspirations. Goals are generally connected to the near-term boundaries or limits that we wish to overcome and the actions that we must take to overcome them. Aspirations are more intensely connected to our deeper yearnings. When we factor in our aspirations to guide us, we begin to connect to what really gives us value in life.
- From balance to focus. Work/life balance is not a natural business goal. In fact, finding more balance may be impossible, due to the many daily emergencies and problems, but we can all find the time to fine-tune our focus. Focus gives us a sharpness of vision and improves our understanding, to create a legacy that will endure the chaos of our busy lives.
- From accepting to understanding. Acceptance embodies the idea that we must get to a place where we approve of something that we disagree with. Understanding is a higher attribute because it allows us to hold on to what we value most, while at the same time showing a sympathetic and even a positive attitude toward another point of view.
- From discussion to dialogue. A discussion is a conversation that involves holding onto and defending our differences, seeking a winner. Dialogue provides an opportunity to explore the uncertainties that exist and the questions that are yet to be answered, with the potential of improving our relationships and benefiting from the collective wisdom.
- From listening to hearing. Listening skills are important, to focus first on noticing what is being said and what is not being said. To hear, we must actively and anxiously be willing to take action on what is being requested of us. Our legacy is strengthened when we demonstrate an ability to take action to make things better for all parties.
- From success to significance. Success is a count of favorable outcomes, which may or may not be significant. Significance will always be around longer than you will be around. It has a life of its own, inspiring someone else to make an impact, and nothing can stop it once it starts rolling. Finally, significance satisfies our deepest aspirations.
- From ambition to meaning. Ambition is our early career drive to prove our worth to others, to achieve recognition, often without regard for the sacrifices we are making. When we make the shift from ambition to meaning, we let our authentic self be our guide. Meaning is the personal fulfillment we enjoy as we grow through our own experiences.
- From growing older to growing whole. Growing older concerns most of us because it fills our minds with visions of what we are going to lose. Growing whole, on the other hand, is working aligned with purpose, less stress and anguish, and more time living than working. Growing whole involves celebrating by giving back and enjoying a real legacy.
It’s never too early to start working on the image you want to be remembered by, rather than the opportunistic default driven by short-term objectives and challenges. Legacy planning is nothing more than an exercise in using your time wisely. The average career is 117,000 hours of work. How many have you spent so far moving your own legacy up a few notches?