‘If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.’ Maya Angelou
Over the last couple of weeks, the world has witnessed the end of the reign of Queen Elisabeth II and, as it always happens when someone of that stature leaves us, a lot of the conversations focus on the legacy that they leave behind for those who follow in their steps and for the wider society. Beyond the financial and tangible aspects of it, there is a social, ethical and emotional component of the concept of legacy that is represented by the values, behaviours and principles that a person fostered and lived by throughout their life and will continue to have a lasting impact on other people long after they are gone.
Interestingly, we tend to associate the idea of legacy mainly with individuals who have a certain standing in society, based on prestige, wealth, intellectual brilliance or a combination of all of the above, and often neglect the fact that each one of us has a legacy, even though often without fully realising it because we do not actively engage in building it. In particular, within the business world, regardless of whether we work for an organisation or for ourselves, we develop our careers not only around our knowledge but also our reputation and the way in which we handle people and situations. All these aspects are part of our professional legacy and define how our work is seen after we leave a company or a role. This is particularly true for us as management consultants because our ethics, approach and standards play a particularly significant role in who we are as professionals and the type of service we provide.
It takes time to build a legacy …
... and it’s never too early (or too late) to start. As someone who comes from a family business background, I have always been particularly aware of the importance that legacy should play in the way we work and act as individuals and professionals as well as the responsibility attached to it. Even though people tend to reflect on their legacy towards the end of their career, it should not depend on factors like age and seniority whether you decide to build your legacy. On the contrary, it is a long process that starts with your very first day at work; it consists of all the decisions and choices you make as well as all the opportunities you seize and the people you meet, even the mistakes you make. The combination of experience and wisdom that you accumulate across all your professional roles defines who you become as a professional and how you contribute to the success of your organisation and the work of those around you.
Every stage in our career brings about a set of situations and challenges that help us develop our ability to lead, make an impact and influence the surrounding environment. Our legacy can be seen in the way we make a decision, we behave with colleagues or clients as well as in how we deal with a difficult situation or help someone who needs our support. It is not necessarily about one defining factor, but it is all the - often small - individual moments when you behave in a way that people around you find inspirational or motivating. Those moments are the building blocks of the contribution you want to make as an individual and as a professional.
How will you leave your mark?
I would therefore argue that, at the same time when they start reflecting on what they want to achieve during their career, young professionals also think about what they would like their contribution to their organisation and, more widely, their sector and the world of work to be. Legacies can come in all shapes and forms and we have the freedom to make an intentional choice about what we want to be remembered for. For example, some people base their legacy on specific skills or knowledge while others leave a mark through inspirational or motivational behaviours.
A good starting point to build you legacy is to understand the values and principles that guide your work and define how you interact with other people. What do you believe in? What are you passionate about? And, even more importantly, what would you like to pass on to others that could make a positive impact on how they work or on how they progress their own career? Once you have an answer to these questions, it becomes easier to identify the actions you need to take to grow and become the professional you want to be. We all have a unique combination of knowledge, expertise and specific beliefs that, once identified, can be a powerful tool to guide you through your career and achieving your goals while supporting others too along the way.
Build a legacy-driven career
The benefits of developing your career with your legacy in mind are manifold. Based on my own experience, the most important ones are:
. It makes your choices more meaningful.
Having a clear idea about what we stand for and how we would like others to remember us for can be very useful to guide our decisions and choices. It definitely shapes the way in which we see the world and what we consider important when it comes to aspects like defining success, choosing fulfilling roles and making career changes.
. It helps you look at objectives, people and change from a different perspective.
When you work towards building a legacy, you focus on how your actions and behaviours affect others and the development of your organisation. It helps you evaluate every aspect of your work and how it can contribute to achieve your legacy goals and set an example. In other words, you can identify behavioural standards for yourself and take ownership of the actions necessary to achieve them.
. It encourages you to think about the long-term.
Creating a legacy also encourages a mindset shift away from short-term, individual activities or decisions and towards an overarching, long-term approach that can shape the way you work and meet your career expectations. If you have an idea of how you would like to leave your mark, you can more easily devise out a plan to do it, starting from your day-to-day actions.
Working today with tomorrow in mind
Deciding to adopt this long-term, legacy-driven perspective early on in your career can be an invaluable source of motivation and a trigger to strive for excellence and continue to improve and grow as a professional. In addition to the advantages to your own career, it could also help you develop a forward-looking mindset that looks at the future and at what can be done today to make it better for those who will come after us. In other words, intentionally working on building a legacy can encourage you to widen your perspective, gradually moving beyond yourself and start thinking about how you can positively influence those around you, your organisation, your sector and the wider society - by using your role and influence, you can shape the future and empower others to reach their goals and find their own professional legacy.
Throughout this series of articles, I have mentioned the term ‘mindset’ on many occasions, mainly to indicate specific ways in which we act, think and respond to the world around us. In my next article, I will discuss the meaning of ‘developing a mindset’ and the reasons why it is increasing important for young professionals to see mindsets as a key component of their development and their preparation to face the future world of world. I will also explore a few of the key ‘mindsets’ like, for example, ‘growth mindset’, ‘beginner’s mindset’ and ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ and reflect on how they can help next gen management consultants build a successful career.
Valentina Lorenzon is a member of the CMCE Coordination group and editor of the CMCE newsletter.