If you stopped working today, what business legacy would you leave? Unless you do something about it, it could be a bullet-point list of skills on your LinkedIn profile, a string of work emails or how many billable hours you’ve worked. Is this really how you want to be remembered in your professional life? It’s worth taking a hard look at what you do and how you do it, to shape your business legacy into something that reflects who you are – here are a few tips.
How Do You Want To Be Remembered?
In her TEDx talk, How To be Remembered, Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith talked about her visual archive, the photographs she’s collected from birth until age 16 in rural Transylvania. In one striking shot, she shows the audience a DIY collage of her photographic collection for her youth – just 11 photographs covering 16 years of her life, and not one more. “Until I took a deliberate action to document my life,” she says, “I made a lot of assumptions about how much I had.”
What documents would you keep to shape your business legacy? Is there a paper you’re particularly proud of, a professional award, a ground-breaking court case or a contribution to a larger body of work? Some lawyers are remembered because they broke barriers. Others because they revived originalism and textualism in the law. Others thanks to their pro bono involvement. At Obelisk Support, we are very proud that we helped hundreds of brilliant female lawyers return to the law after career gaps, when nobody else would give them a chance because career gaps are a deal-breaker for many legal recruiters.
There are so many ways lawyers (and other professionals) can make a difference in the world, even if it’s at microscopic level. Whatever it is you want to be remembered for, make sure that you keep track of the achievements you are proud of.
How Your Work Behaviour Reflects on You
Maya Angelou famously said that, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It’s true of the professional world too. When I started my career as a young tax lawyer at Clifford Chance, I remember distinctly how one partner always supported me and mentored me, helping me grow from an inexperienced trainee to a corporate tax project manager. We’ve stayed in contact through this day and I still appreciate him as a great human being. On the other hand, another partner was very short-tempered and I remember his temper outbursts more than what we worked on together. One made me feel valued while the other one made me feel useless. Obviously, personal relationships can have a huge impact at work and a negative attitude can badly affect your colleagues.
At Obelisk Support, we recently hosted a workshop on emotional intelligence that resonated with many of our legal consultants. Using the principles of emotional intelligence, there are ways for people to learn to deal with anger in constructive ways. If that doesn’t work, try these tips to keep your anger in check. Yes, being a lawyer is stressful but a stressful job is a poor excuse for a bad attitude. We all have to deal with shit in our lives. Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons.
CEOs, What’s Your Human Legacy?
If you’re in a leadership position, your human legacy will matter more than any multi-digit fancy spreadsheet. As a CEO or high-ranking executive, the obvious legacy you leave behind is how you grew or transformed a business. However what you leave behind in terms of people matters more and more. Using a Game of Thrones analogy, do you want to be remembered as a Cersei Lannister, Stannis Baratheon or a Jon Snow?
Being a good leader is hard work, but being an ethical good leader creating social value both for employees and other stakeholders is even harder work. In a 2014 global CEO survey, PwC asked 1,344 leaders what they wanted to be remembered for. Roughly 30% of CEOs wanted to to be remembered for the kind of personal attributes they exhibited, compared to 9% in 2007. According to the survey, “the financial crisis might be the catalyst for the double-digit growth in the number of CEOs who wanted to be remembered for their sound personal qualities. CEOs have been reminded that regaining public trust in the role of business starts with ethical leadership and conduct.”
Indeed, a bad legacy can backfire. On Glassdoor, an employee who worked five years full-time at a large consulting firm writes: “Legacy of ex-CEO remains, driven more so by bottom line profit than other Big 4 (from my experience). This can come at the sacrifice of keeping talented employees.”
Though we live in a society that’s obsessed with measuring data and trends, people also need inspiration and creativity to progress towards higher goals and better well-being. They need to dream and they need to hope. Without dream and hope, life wouldn’t be worth living.
In Gregory Dess and Joseph Picken’s Changing Roles: Leadership In The 21st Century, the five key roles of leadership are listed as:
- Using strategic vision to motivate and inspire
- Empowering employees at all levels
- Accumulating and sharing internal knowledge
- Gathering and integrating external information
- Challenging the status quo and enabling creativity
So, shall it be Daenerys Targaryen, then?
As individuals we can’t all do something huge and world changing, but the impact we have on our own little corner of the earth can help carve a path for more positive change, long after we are gone. It’s never too soon to think about what business legacy you will leave behind.