Creating A Professional Legacy

Personal Resolutions are a Choice. A Professional Legacy is a Decision.

Happy new year!

People have different opinions about New Year resolutions. Some people seem to downright relish the idea of assessing where they are at the beginning of a new calendar year and setting out goals to improve themselves. Others emphatically embrace the idea that the best way not to fail to keep a resolution is to not make one in the first place. I think many of us are somewhere in the middle. But even if you are in the no resolution camp, I think we all benefit from thinking about our professional legacy. That means understanding what we want to accomplish – not in a year so much as over the course of our working lives.

How will you choose and pursue your professional legacy?

How will you leave your mark? I encourage you to take some time to think about how as a leader you want to shape your professional legacy. This year is as good as any to outline what kind of organisation you work in now, and what you want to change (or sustain) in that company. What about the corporate culture, or the business goals, or the way employees motivate and encourage you? What do you want to actively be a part of creating or building?

You are already part of someone else’s CV. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “…you never knew exactly how much space you occupied in people’s lives”. If you manage people, you are already becoming part of their experience, their understanding of professional life. If anyone you’ve managed has moved on to another role or another organisation, you are already part of their history. Think about the part you want to play in who they will become – and how that will influence the legacy they themselves want to leave. Are you going to be the person that inspires them, or a cautionary tale they promise not to emulate?

Change what you can. That’s enough. I think a lot about the impressions that I’m leaving on people. For me, there are a lot of things I hope for people in the organisation, but I can’t unilaterally control. I can’t promise people they’ll always have a job with this company. But I can promise to teach them (or give them opportunities to be taught) new skills that will develop them. I can commit to make my team engaged and able to connect with their teammates as people. Most Gen X leaders are now in a position where you probably control something — resources, connections, opportunities. So my professional legacy goal is that the imprint I leave on my team will be to leverage what I can, to build what I want the organisation to be, even after I’m gone.

Your professional legacy should not only reflect what you want, but why you want it.

When I think about my professional legacy I’m motivated by what kind of future leaders my team will be. I think about whether I’m creating future leaders that I’d respect and trust. That I see as fair and inclusive and honest. I want that kind of leadership because that’s the sort I’d want to lead my kid – because one day someone like them will.

Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.

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