Will you be famous or infamous?

Apr 18, 2021

Actively work to shape your own legacy, otherwise it will be defined by others and probably not as positive as you would want.

As I get older, I find myself thinking about the legacy of my career. It is only natural to have such thoughts as invariably we want our impact and reputation to extend beyond our lives. However, if you only focus on your legacy at the end, you may have already missed many opportunities to make a real difference.

As leaders, our legacies are linked to the decisions we make and the leadership we show both within the firm and outwardly to the greater community. In the absence of defining your own legacy, it will be created or defined by others and will probably not be the positive legacy you want. Therefore, you should actively work to shape your legacy.

  • Legacy is a journey, not an event. You cannot just wake up one day and decide that you want to change, much less create, your legacy. As the totality of your career and your life will define your legacy, you need to have a life plan from day one. This is not to say that the plan may not change as it does need to evolve as your career advances and in response to opportunities along the way. You must also be aware that the actions you take could potentially have long-term impacts on your life and career. This is especially true in today’s technology-driven society, where almost all actions are documented and can come back to bite us later. If you are going to be an internet sensation, I hope you become one for all the right reasons.
  • Make the right choices. It is said that we are remembered most for how we dealt with a crisis. Did you run toward the problem and address it, or did you run away and hope someone else would deal with the issue? Similarly, in your day-to-day decision making, did you take the easy choice that may benefit yourself most directly, or did you make the right choice that provided the greater benefit to all those you lead? Also, hopefully the decision was made for the long-term benefit of the firm and not just a fleeting short-term gain. There will always be some decisions made that turn out to be wrong. However, if you establish the correct metrics on which to base your decisions and if you consider the long-term needs of the entire organization when making those decisions, you will make more correct decisions than bad.
  • Self-made people are rare. I originally was going to state that self-made individuals are non-existent, but that may only reflect that I do not believe that I have ever met one. The vast majority of us got to where we are with the assistance of others or through opportunities created by others. As such, we need to acknowledge that assistance and then pay it forward to the next generation. As a starting point, think back to all those times you were assisted and do the same for someone else. If you went to college through a scholarship funded by others, establish one yourself. If you had a mentor, be a mentor to someone within your firm. If you were encouraged to join and participate in an organization, do the same for a professional peer. In most cases, it does not require a lot of input from you, but the assistance you provide can have a tremendously powerful impact on others.
  • Servant leader vs. authoritarian. If you look back in history, very few authoritarians are portrayed in a good light. As an authoritarian is typically focused on themselves and gaining control over those around them, it is hard to imagine that they will create a legacy that most would want to emulate. On the other hand, servant leaders understand that when they support and celebrate the victories of others, their own position is improved as others want to follow them. “A rising tide lifts all ships” is a much better form of leadership than “every man, woman, or child for themselves.”
  • Be consistent. Creating a positive legacy requires consistency of action. You cannot be one person in the office and another outside within the community. Absent consistency, others will lose trust and question your motives. Yet, how many firm leaders do you know who are nice and supportive of their clients but ride roughshod over their employees? That attitude is not sustainable and will drive any employee with ability and an entrepreneurial spirit out of the firm. Do you want your legacy to be that you created multiple competitors or that you created multiple business partners?

What is your legacy? Creating a positive legacy is possibly the most powerful action you can take in your career as it allows you to help shape both the present and future success of your firm. It is the culmination of one’s work and will dictate how we are remembered. I hope that we all want to be famous for our accomplishments and not infamous for our failings.

Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at slucy@jqeng.com.

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