What’s Your Legacy?

My mother-in-law died.  She was a remarkable woman, focused on measurement long before it was in vogue.  In particular, she judged a funeral by the number of viewing attendees, number of mass cards sent, and number of cars in the procession.  She would have been pleased with her metrics.

Her funeral was a mixed bag – as most are – of sadness and inspiration.  The stories that were told, good times remembered, and outpouring of support and emotion made it clear: this woman left quite a legacy.  It wasn’t her intention to do so… it just happened as a result of how she lived her life.

It made me think about leaders in organizations and the legacies that are inadvertently left. When we’re gone – moving on to another job here or beyond – what’s remembered?  It’s not the hard, business stuff: last quarter’s results, the big new account that was brought in, or the marketing plan that beat expectations.   It’s the soft stuff: the encouragement, support, help, and kindness.  It’s the culture, environment or vibe that someone created.  It’s the human connection that touched one’s spirit or soul.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

~Maya Angelou

  • How do you make people feel?
  • Do you make them feel strong, helping them build on their talents and gifts?
  • Do you make them feel hopeful, enabling them to realize important dreams and goals?
  • Do you make them feel capable, exploiting opportunities and possibilities?

The good news is that you won’t have to wait until you’re gone to know the answers.  They already show up in countless tangible ways: retention and turnover; enthusiasm and discretionary effort; and the professional development and progression of those who report to you.

As leaders, while we’re running the business and delivering results month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year, it might be wise to put in place some legacy metrics as well.

So, what do you think?  What kind of leadership legacy do you want to leave?  What leading indicators might let you know that you’re tracking toward your intended results?


Julie Winkle Giulioni
Julie Winkle Giulioni
Julie Winkle Giulioni is a guardian of growth, defender of development, and promoter of potential in today’s workplace. She’s the author of  Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive and co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 speakers, Julie offers memorable and actionable live and virtual keynotes and presentations worldwide. Julie is a regular columnist for Training Industry Magazine, SmartBrief, and contributes her thought leadership around career development and workplace trends to The Economist and other publications. You can keep up with Julie through her blogLinkedIn and Twitter.

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  1. You are so right, Aldo. And it runs counter to the ego-driven leadership that permeates some organizations. Too many leaders believe that adding value means being indispensable… being at the center of all decisions, etc. But working to make one’s self dispensable ensures the transfer of learning/capability to others… and is actually the sign of an enlightened and effective leader. Thanks for your always insightful comments!

  2. I absolutely agree with all the considerations of this pleasant article.
    I have written to this group in the past about the qualities of an “unforgettable” leader.
    I add that a leader may leave a lasting legacy guiding the organization with a long vision, creating a leadership culture, preparing the organization to change and succession planning easier.
    But a lasting legacy I believe is manifested only when our team or organization are anabled to do great things without us. In other word, the leadership skills will not be measured by what leader have built or established, but how well will go the organization and the people after he/her has gone.
    To leave a mark and make a real difference in the company as a leader it is important to take people where they never would have been going alone.

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