The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.
—Kalu Ndukwe Kalu, author
I can trace the beginning of my personal development journey to The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. It was the workbook version, and I devoured it. I wrote in the margins and responded to almost all the questions. I have enjoyed a number of books by Mr. Maxwell, but I can definitively say that this is the book that started it all. It was a turning point for me because after reading the book, I embraced and applied the leadership principles in my life and career.
By far, the law that stood out to me the most was the Law of Legacy: a leader’s lasting value is measured by succession. Every person leaves some sort of legacy, and Maxwell urges us to be intentional about what that legacy should be.
I knew Citi would be an important chapter in my professional life when, months after working through The 21 Irrefutable Laws, I interviewed to join Citi. One of my interviewers, who is now my boss (Francisco Rapp) and I discussed leadership, passion, and legacy at great length. I knew then that he was a remarkable person, and that there was the possibility of doing something remarkable at Citi.
Why Legacy Thinking?
Legacy thinking is important because it compels you to keep things in perspective. By placing ideas in their proper context, you improve on great ideas and weed out time wasters that do not align with your true purpose in this world. As with most leadership tools, you can begin to apply it right where you are, and, as you invest in it, watch it blossom over time.
Four Ways to Apply Legacy Thinking
1. Embrace Legacy Thinking. The first step is to be intentional about your legacy. Maxwell notes that everyone leaves some sort of legacy—good or bad. To that, I’d add a third option: indifferent. Being intentional about legacy means you have a say and can drive the outcome you desire.
2. Determine What Your Legacy Will Be. The next step is to consider what you’d like your legacy to be. It doesn’t need to be determined in a day, but evaluate what you truly care about in life and in the long run. It need not be the biggest ideas; little things can be just as impactful. How would you like to be remembered—both at death and in your interactions with others? What impression would you like to leave on others? What would you like your family legacy to be?
3. Decide Who You Will Carry on Your Legacy. Maxwell outlines a very people-centered view of legacy. It is legacy thinking that is rooted firmly in the gift of one’s self. He begins the chapter with a discussion of his visit to Calcutta, and what a powerful legacy Mother Theresa left. Consider how you are investing in those closest to you—your family and colleagues. Are you investing in others to help fulfill their unique purpose and potential? What are you passing on? According to Sandee Parrado, forensic partner at PriceWaterHouseCoopers, “The true measure of a leader is developing others. Organizations do not need only one great person. They need great people, teams of them.”
4. Let Your Legacy Run Your Days. Evaluate your time spent and prioritize your commitments according to the legacy you’d like to leave. As you go through the day, consider whether the things you spend the most time on are the things you’d like to be remembered for. Again, this includes the little things. Spending quality time and having fun with the kids, for example, is indeed time well spent when viewed from the perspective of legacy.
In the end, legacy is about giving of ourselves. It is about putting our unique mark on the canvas of life and on the hearts and minds of others. Decide what you want it to be, then live it.