I met today with an instructor and student of the Blue Valley Public Schools Center for Advanced Professional Studies program, commonly known as CAPS. I’ve been meeting with 1-5 students per semester for the past 3-4 years in a mentoring capacity. All of these mentoring relationships were focused on some aspect of ACI’s project work, including the Life Box Container’s, clean water in Africa, empowering women, and our Maasai Community Development Project in Kenya. When the student was asked by the instructor why she wanted to continue working with ACI a second semester, the student said she was very interested in working with an organization that was truly making a difference in the world and helping people. Our discussion evolved into how this is creating a legacy for that student.
In thinking about creating a legacy, I’ve always wondered why so many really good leaders look back on their careers and find that they have really done very little that makes a positive, sustainable difference in the world, while others, who are not necessarily more brilliant, leave behind a legacy of positively impacting their global community. In other words, leaving a positive legacy that your family, your friends, and your organization can look back on with a sense of accomplishment, pride, and encouragement.
I believe that most people want to leave behind more than a memory. They genuinely want to change the world or a local community in a sustainable way for the long term. They want to see lives changed for the better without being part of the dependency cycle that is prevalent in our world today. How do you do that? How do you leave the legacy? Here are four things that I’ve learned and believe are helpful:
1. Know what really matters. Leaving behind a legacy is no accident. Until you know, clearly and unequivocally, what you want your legacy to be, it's difficult, if not impossible, to begin building it. The foundation of building a legacy is a deep sense of knowing and doing the right thing every time.
You need to put in writing what is most important to you and what you want your legacy to be. It is something like having a personal mission and vision statement. It is something that needs to be evaluated annually. Revise it when necessary, amending the wording to clarify and sharpen your personal vision and mission. Over time, your personal mission and vision statement reflects the core of who you are and what is most important to you. That’s the beginning of creating a positive legacy.
2. Get in the action. Take a look at your personal mission and vision statement. It won't become a reality if you’re only living in the theoretical. The hands on when it comes to working with individuals and communities. Develop relationships, which will help you put a face to the difference you are making. Make sure that your hands on work is something that can be passed on to others in that community so as to not create or perpetuate an attitude of dependency. In a sense, you are leaving a leadership legacy--a touchstone to guide future generations. Some people would call this “deep mentoring” as you develop leadership by passing on knowledge, training, and a passion for making a difference.
3. Clearly and regularly communicate your mission and vision. Do that with your friends, your family, your coworkers and your organization. You almost have to be a broken record in that sense. Communicate this verbally, and by example. Do it in meetings, both formal and informal; in writing and on the phone.
People who leave a positive legacy live, sleep, and breathe their mission and vision. It provides stability for everyone you come in contact with as they hear the familiar mission and vision they’ve heard so many times before. It also brings comfort to those you’re trying to help, as they recognize you and your organization is positioned for self-sustainability as well.
4. Leave. Leaving a legacy behind requires you to no longer be there. This is very hard for some people to do; however, the goal should always be to turn over the reins to quality leadership in whatever project or community you are involved in. Unfortunately many leaders miss this critical point and they stayed too long, which cripples the sustainability of the work that is being done with an individual or community. This is crippling to individuals being mentored, and perpetuates the cycle of dependency.