Have you been as intentional about your legacy as you’ve been about your career, or are you so busy building and working a career that you haven’t considered the lasting legacy that you actually want attached to it?
Here is a hard truth. We’re allotted only a finite amount of time here and—sadly—each of us will die at one point or another. Knowing this fact causes many of us to contemplate whether or not we contribute in ways that will be valued long after we’re gone. And knowing this fact prompts many of us to consider the kind of career legacy that we want to create.
Career Legacy Impact
As a management consultant and executive coach, I’m privileged to work with and learn from people at all levels and across a wide range of industries. One component of a strategic leadership program I designed involves asking participants to consider their leadership impact against a multitude of factors, including career legacy.
While the majority of the strategic leadership program focuses on developing executives who will excel in the functional and operational areas of strategy, performance, org culture, change, governance, etc., participants are also encouraged to align their professional, leadership and organizational success with their career legacy goals. The career legacy work starts with observations around the following preliminary questions before delving more deeply into the core three categories identified below.
- Are you so preoccupied with creating your own path that you fail to help others with theirs?
- Do you find that you’ve been willing to set aside or compromise your integrity or ethics in order to advance your career?
- Have you been so busy working in your profession that you don’t actually seem to have time to build upon and contribute to it?
Assessment Instructions: The career legacy impact assessment is split across three distinct categories as outlined below. Review each category, and process the corresponding questions. Then settle in and honestly consider your answers.
If your answers indicate to you that you aren’t moving in a direction to create the kind of career legacy you want, identify key options and areas for improvement. If your answers indicate that you are indeed moving toward creating the career legacy you want, then consider it a strength, and make a plan to continue advancing successfully on your journey.
Category 1: Creating uplifting and impactful experiences for others.
An impactful career legacy is formed because you intentionally create uplifting and impactful experiences for others. In order for you to matter to others long after you are gone, you must make sure other people know they matter to you while you are here.
All kinds of experiences count—the elaborate, the simple and everything in between. Consider the small things as well as the large. What difference did you make for a colleague this week, this month, this year? What moment did you acknowledge and how? Whose worth did you validate today and how? Here are five sets of questions for you to consider as you assess your career legacy impact for this category.
- Are you intentionally making efforts to uplift those with whom you work? How do you go about doing this? How do you know it matters to others?
- Do you volunteer for programs or projects that serve a greater purpose where you may never benefit financially? Which ones, and who does it benefit most?
- How often do you stop and listen to those around you who don’t have the power or influence to give you a raise or a promotion? When have you last taken advice from someone who can’t advance your career and isn’t trying to help you in that regard?
- How do you show your friends, family and colleagues that you care about their needs? How do you know that they notice?
- Do people ever write, call or otherwise let you know that you have positively impacted their lives in one way or another? How do you show gratitude for this?
Category 2: Leading yourself first and demonstrating solid integrity and ethics.
The most impactful leaders start with leading themselves first, and they hold themselves to professional standards for ethics and integrity. To do this well, you need to get real with yourself about what motivates and drives the decisions you make for yourself, your team and your organization.
In order to minimize internal conflict, you must first be true to yourself. Doing so will help you to better align your career choices with your passion and purpose. Here are five sets of questions for you to consider as you assess your career legacy impact for this category.
- Have you defined—and do you uphold—a core set of professional and personal standards for behavior and decisions? What are these standards?
- When a decision presents an ethical dilemma, are you prone to do what is right for the greater good (the larger organization/community), or is it more important to consider how it resounds to the benefit of those you like personally?
- How much time do you commit to weighing the positive and negative (even unintentional) consequences of actions you take? What about the decisions you make? What decision-making method do you apply, and how do you involve others?
- Do you do the right thing when others are looking and especially when they are not? Describe one or two of your most difficult ethical dilemmas with details for how you dealt with it.
- What steps do you take to ensure that you don’t sacrifice your integrity while pursuing career goals and professional advancement? Are any difficult for you, and why?
Category 3: Contributing to your community and to your profession.
In order to develop an impactful career legacy, you have to engage with and contribute to your personal or professional communities. There are myriad opportunities to shape and influence people, programs and services within your personal life and within your chosen career. Here are five sets of questions for you to consider as you assess your career legacy impact for this category.
- What specific things are you doing to advance your profession? Beyond going to work daily to do your own job, do you give back or contribute to the profession or the community in some meaningful way? How, and who does it most benefit?
- Do you ever serve on committees or boards or offer to speak or write about something that will help to elevate your profession and others in it? Describe the last thing you did in this regard.
- When did you last dedicate time to develop someone from a younger generation? Do you ever agree to mentor, work with or share free advice with a young career professional? How do you demonstrate this?
- Are you open to listen to and take advice from newcomers to your profession? Do you make a point to seek out new ideas and different ways of thinking from someone with less experience than you? Describe instances where you’ve demonstrated this.
- What actions have you taken within the last five years to contribute to your personal or professional community? Do you engage with activities that serve to better your neighborhood, community or organization at large? How?
What perspective do you want to leave long after you are gone?
Again, one hard truth is that each of us will surely die one day. Despite this—and maybe precisely because of it—many of us care about making a meaningful difference in the world. We want to positively impact others and leave a memory that reflects well on who we think we are or who we want others to perceive us as being.
When it’s all said and done, much of what you work so hard to accomplish for yourself will take a back seat to what you actually help other people accomplish for themselves. What will matter most are the experiences you create for others, the strength of your integrity and the contributions you make to your community and your profession.
As you assess your career legacy impact using the sets of questions above, first consider the perspective and memory you want to leave, and then outline what you are prepared to do to properly shape that perspective.