Leading is not easy. In addition to the responsibility of making tough decisions, there are relationships that need care, systems, and networks that need attention, and your personal health to be considered. 

Whether you know it or claim it, what you say and do as a leader leaves an impact upon the people entrusted to your care. That impact is the legacy of your leadership. 

What is your legacy?

Usually, when people talk about legacy, they are talking about making an impact at the end of their lives. They leave money, build a building, or add a wing to a building in memory of a loved one. I’m not questioning the goodness of those legacies, but I do think there is another legacy that makes a greater impact over a longer period of time. It is your legacy as a leader. 

You leave an incredible legacy through the relationships you develop and sustain on a daily basis. What you leave behind lives in the hearts and minds of the people entrusted to your care. It is measured by what you do and what you say every day. 

Begin with the End in Mind

Habit number 2 in Stephen R. Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is “Begin with the End in Mind.” He wrote, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”

How will you be remembered?

The same is true regarding your legacy. So, how do you want to be remembered? 

People could say, “You were extremely busy and that you always seemed to work hard.” What they say might be true, but it is easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at trying to move up the ladder of success only to discover that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy and to work hard without being very effective. Is that the legacy you want to leave?

Live your Life By Design

According to Covey, “to begin with the end in mind” is to live your life by design. He wrote, “Before you go on a trip, you determine your destination and plan out the best route. Before you plant a garden, you plan it out in your mind, possibly on paper. You create speeches on paper before you give them, you envision the landscaping in your yard before you landscape it, you design the clothes you make before you thread the needle.”

By Design or By Default?

The same is true regarding your legacy. So, how do you want to be remembered? Living by design or living by default? In your personal life, if you do not develop your own self-awareness and become responsible for the direction of your life, you give other people and circumstances the power and influence to shape your life by default. You reactively live by the direction of work, family, circumstances, and the agenda of others. These agendas are usually rooted in your deep vulnerabilities, dependency on others, and your need for acceptance. You allow your sense of importance and worth to be directed by default. Is that the legacy you want to leave?

Five Characteristics of a Leadership Legacy

What legacy do you want to develop and leave behind? How do you want to be remembered? Here are 5 characteristics that will help you design your leadership legacy.

Develop your character. 

Character plays a critical role in leadership. It will leave a lasting impression. Too many people are concerned with their reputation when they should be concentrating on their character. Your character is who you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are. Developing your character and your leadership legacy will take care of itself.

We live in a time where character does not seem important. Whether it be in politics, social media, or just truth-telling, the focus seems more upon what you can get for yourself rather than what part of yourself you give to others. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Your character will leave a legacy for others to follow and to emulate. 

Develop the potential in others. 

Your legacy will be seen in how you value the people around you. Bene Brown, in Dare to Lead, describes a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” God has gifted every person with special strengths, talents, and gifts. Your care and connection are irreplaceable in developing the strengths and gifts of the people entrusted to your care. 

Too many leaders overlook the gifts of the people with whom they work. Instead of becoming vulnerable and trusting colleagues, they begin to micromanage and become defensive. Whether it be at work, with family, or in daily relationships, your ability to help others be who they have been created to be is vital in developing happy and healthy relationships. 

Who you are is how you lead. Your leadership legacy is seen in how you recognize, value, and develop the potential in others. 

Be a person of integrity and respect. 

When what you say is what you do, and when you live up to your promises, you make a lasting impact. If your behavior is the same in unguarded moments as it is when someone is watching, you are creating the kind of legacy anyone would want.

When you act with integrity it will be remembered. If you treat others with respect it will be honored; when you are trustworthy it will be recognized; and as you live by your values, you will make a lasting impact upon the people entrusted to your care. 

Followers want leaders who they can trust, who respond with compassion, who bring stability, and who offer hope. Be authentic and vulnerable in your relationships. Be caring and clear in your communication. The way you relate to others and conduct yourself shapes your leadership legacy. People will remember how you valued and cared for them long after they forget your name. Who you are is how you lead. 

Make courageous decisions. 

Because life is made up of decisions, the decisions you make from your legacy. As you make choices and decisions every day, keep in mind you are leading by design. Your decisions help form your leadership legacy. 

You always want to make the right decisions, but do not get stuck in “paralysis of analysis.” You want to learn from your mistakes, but do not be afraid to step out and take the risks needed to move forward. In the end, your leadership legacy will reflect not only the decisions you have made but how you made those decisions. Who you are is how you lead and is reflected in your decision-making.

Be a person of compassion. 

Compassion grows out of your care for people more than your attention to processes and procedures. Leadership, at its core, is the ability to relate to people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives. When they experience and trust your care, they help shape your leadership legacy. Through compassion, you leave a long-lasting impression. 

You cannot fake compassion. So be yourself. Love and care for people in the way others have loved and cared for you. It is okay to be vulnerable and to trust the people around you. You will leave a long-lasting impression through your compassion. Who you are is how you lead.

Your Leadership Legacy

So, how do you want to be remembered? Start today to design the legacy you want to leave. Step out with confidence. Develop your character, develop the potential in others, live a life of integrity, make courageous decisions, and be a person of compassion. As you do, people will learn to trust your actions and you will become more you God has created you to be. You will be remembered as a leader who helped others feel significant and empowered. 

This week, if not today, take a few moments to reflect on how you want to be remembered.

  • Compared to the way you are leading today, what behaviors need to change? 
  • What disciplines or patterns need to be established? 
  • What do you need to learn? 
  • What relationships do you need to develop? 
  • What do you need to do to create a leadership legacy that leaves something not for people, but leaves something in people? 

Who you are is how you lead. How do you want to be remembered? 

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