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What Will Be Your Legacy?

Last week one of the Bulletin’s co-editors asked if I’d be interested in writing an article for the upcoming issue. I jokingly responded the only thing I could think of off the top of my head was my ongoing retirement planning (which, if you don’t know me, will hopefully involve lots of travel).

Barring any emergencies, I still have several years to go before I intend to retire. But a recent visit to a financial planner has gotten me thinking a lot about “what comes after work.” And it turns out that my offhand quip contained a nugget that could be worthy an article, namely:

What do I want my work legacy to be?

Leaving a work/professional legacy naturally includes succession planning and knowledge transfer – you don’t want your hard-won experience to walk out of the building at the same time you do.

But a work legacy also encompasses the feeling that you made a real difference to your profession, to your place of work, to your colleagues, and to your patrons during the course of your career — that your efforts created something that will live on after you have left the workforce.

Glen Llopis describes a work legacy as, “When you think about it, legacy is the establishment of traditions that can be passed on to future generations. The model is the family business, where history and experience are directly passed on to children and other family members so that they can successfully take over and grow the business. As a leader, it is your responsibility to uphold the legacy and traditions of those that came before you – but equally you must hold yourself accountable to build upon those traditions to further strengthen the culture, human capital and brand of the organization you serve.”

When should I start thinking about my legacy?

A quick perusal of some online articles led me to some bad news and some good news. The bad news was that I probably should have started thinking about my work legacy in my fifties, if not earlier. (Oops.)

The good news is that it’s never too late to start. In fact, Nigel Cumberland notes “[t]he best method of ensuring that you will leave a great legacy behind is to plan and to work on it while you are still working.”

In addition, you don’t have to be anywhere close to retirement to find value in the concept of leaving a work legacy. Thinking consciously about your work legacy sooner rather than later in your career gives you the time to determine what you want your legacy to be and the time to create the pathways to it.

How can a focus on my legacy help me today?

Thinking about what you want your professional legacy to be can help you move beyond the minutia of day-to-day activities and engage in bigger-picture thinking. Elaine Varelas points out that instead of answering time-worn questions such as “where do I want to be in five years?” you can intentionally set annual and long-term goals around your desired legacy.

In thinking about identifying your work legacy, Glen Llopis suggests reviewing your resume and describing the legacy you believe you left behind at each job. What did you do that made a difference while you were there? “

The legacies you can more easily define are related to those jobs that mattered most to you. They were more purposeful because you could contribute in meaningful ways that also inspired those around you.”

How do I define my legacy?

To further define what you want your professional legacy to be, the following questions might also be helpful:

  • What excites you most about your work?
  • What parts of your work do you value the most?
  • What contributions/accomplishments have you been proudest of?
  • What strengths and positive qualities do you use most often and want to be known for?
  • What would you like to pass on to the next generation at work?
  • What do you want to be remembered for by your colleagues and fellow professionals?
  • What do you want to be remembered for by clients/patrons or others external to your organization?

Once you have answered these questions, Kristan Wojnar recommends creating a work legacy mission statement clearly identifying the legacy you desire to pass on. “By writing it down on paper, you are much more likely to act on it and make it happen.”

Finally, remember your work or professional legacy goes far beyond any job-related accomplishments. What may be more important and long-lasting is how you live on in the minds and hearts of the people you leave behind.

As Lew Sauder points out, “I’ve worked with many people throughout my career. There are some that I hardly remember. They did their jobs. They moved on. And that was it. There are other people who I remember many years after we parted ways. They are the people who left a legacy.”

Sources consulted:

Craig Badings, What Legacy Will You Leave at Your Workplace?, https://firebrandtalent.com/blog/2017/09/legacy-leave-workplace/ (last visited November 5, 2018).

Nigel Cumberland, How to Leave a Successful Legacy in the Workplace (April 14, 2016, 04:00 a.m.), https://www.thenational.ae/business/how-to-leave-a-successful-legacy-in-the-workplace-1.139600.

Ben Fanning, 5 Ways the Best Leaders Leave Unforgettable Legacies (Nov. 18, 2016), https://www.inc.com/ben-fanning/5-ways-the-best-leaders-leave-unforgettable-legacies.html.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot, How To Leave A Legacy Where You Work (Aug 12, 2015, 10:08am), https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2015/08/12/how-to-leave-a-legacy-where-you-work/#7a361d27412c.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 7 Ways to Build Your Legacy at Work (February 10, 2016), http://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/7-ways-to-build-your-legacy-at-work/.

Glen Lliopis, 5 Ways A Legacy-Driven Mindset Will Define Your Leadership (Feb 20, 2014, 10:11am), https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2014/02/20/5-ways-a-legacy-driven-mindset-will-define-your-leadership/#56668a9216b1.

Lew Sauder, 5 Ways to Leave a Legacy at Work (December 26, 2014), http://www.thereluctantmentor.com/5-ways-to-leave-a-legacy-at-work/.

Elaine Varelas, Building your Legacy at Work (09/02/2008), http://archive.boston.com/jobs/hire_authority/090208.shtml.

Kristan Wojnar, What Will Your Professional Legacy Be? (May 02, 2017), https://etfdb.com/practice-management/what-will-your-professional-legacy-be/.