Thursday, May 1, 2014

Leaders: 4 Ways to Build Your Legacy in the Here and Now

Guest post from Bruce Rosenstein:

The recent executive shakeups at Microsoft have talking heads everywhere speculating on the legacy of Bill Gates, who has stepped down as chair of the company and is taking up the role of technology advisor to Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella. Many are also wondering about the legacy of the recently retired CEO Steve Ballmer, who remains a director of the company, to say nothing of the eventual legacy of Nadella.
But how useful is it for you to focus on this chatter? As a leader in your own right, you’d surely be better served by focusing your energy and effort on building your own legacy. Creating your personal legacy can be a unique planning and development tool as you go about your day-to-day life, with its innumerable thoughts, actions, commitments, and decisions,

In a recent blog post “Live and Lead Without Regrets,” leadership consultant Lolly Daskal, founder of Lead from Within, contends that leaders in particular must spend their time doing what matters most. “Commit RIGHT NOW,” she writes, “to make the most of your moments, and to begin building a life that is free of regret and reflects how you want to be remembered.” Hear, hear.
Starting today, build your legacy in the here and now. Here are four ways to get going:

1. Think existentially. Peter Drucker, the legendary father of modern management, who died in 2005 at age 95, recommended periodically asking yourself: What do I want to be remembered for? This way, you can keep moving toward more and different possibilities, toward a larger sense of yourself. Likewise, it can help you discover what you want to put into life and what you want to get out of it. Uber-entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, answered a question about his desired legacy this way: “To have created one of the most respected companies in the world. Not necessarily the biggest.”
2. Live in more than one world. Billie Jean King transformed women’s tennis during her era as a player. She is also cofounder of the revolutionary Mylan World TeamTennis league and in 2008 was appointed as a global mentor for gender equality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Similarly, Bill Gates’ accomplishments go well beyond Microsoft. He’s renowned for his philanthropic work through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which tackles major problems in critical areas such as global health and education.

3. Seek to change people’s lives for the better. Musician Bono has achieved lasting fame as the front man of the Dublin-based rock band U2. He’s also a tireless, triumphant activist for far-reaching global issues, including poverty, hunger, and HIV/AIDS. He’s even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Angelina Jolie is not only a superstar actress but also an acclaimed humanitarian, having served as a special envoy for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. Last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Jolie with the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
4. Just do it. As the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” So get started right here, right now. And bear in mind that big things often start small. Consider the stories of these three power players:

  • The legacy of David M. Rubenstein, the self-made billionaire co-founder of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, is being built not on the great wealth he’s amassed but on how he’s putting his money to use, including allocating some $200 million for what he calls “patriotic giving”—supporting institutions such as the National Archives, National Zoo, Library of Congress, Washington Monument, and John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
  • Frances Hesselbein went from leading Girl Scout Troop 17 in Johnstown, Pa., to revitalizing the Girl Scouts of the USA as the organization’s CEO. Today she serves as CEO of the world-renowned Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management. Hesselbein, along with King and Drucker (who was a pro bono consultant for the Girl Scouts during Hesselbein’s tenure), also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
  • Salman Khan is helping to revolutionize and democratize math and science education through his celebrated Khan Academy, a not-for-profit educational website that provides “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” He is now partnering with the College Board to offer free online test preparation for the SAT exam. Yet Khan started out just 10 years ago about as small as one can—tutoring his 12-year-old cousin online.
A legacy is too important to be left to fate or chance. Use these four strategies to start building yours in the here and now—today.

Bruce Rosenstein is a leading management writer and speaker. A former researcher and writer for USA Today, he is managing editor of Leader to Leader and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (McGraw-Hill) and Living in More Than One World (Berrett-Koehler). For more information, visit

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