Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

3 Ways To Stop Sleep Walking Through Your Leadership Legacy

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Guest article by Glain Roberts-McCabe

“She was completely whole and yet never fully complete” ―Maquita Donyel Irvin

One day, I was having lunch with John, a successful CEO of a national retailer. Like most executives in highly pressured sectors, John feels like he spends most of his time firefighting.

John, who’s arguably one of the most optimistic people I know, was understandably tired.


We were talking about his ‘career Act 2’. That is, what he was going to do when he ‘finally’ finished work.

‘You know,’ he said, ‘I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to give back.’

His comment made me pause.

Here’s the thing: as a leader, you are giving back. Every. Single. Day.

How many of us are like John? Just trying to put one foot in front of the other in order to keep our heads above water?

How many of us lose sight of what an amazing privilege it is for us to be in a leadership role where we have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others? I repeat: Every. Single. Day.

It’s easy to drown in the minutia and distractions of meetings, disappointments and unexpected curveballs. It’s easy to lose sight of a higher purpose.

We’re building our leadership legacy through every action we take yet most of us are sleepwalking through it. Here’s how to wake up and take control.

  1. Create a Legacy Vision

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

If we don’t know where we’re going, how do we know when we get there? When I ask leaders at conferences if they have a leadership plan (not a performance plan, a leadership plan), I’ll get about 2 out of 100 people raising their hands.

The first way to claim your legacy is to set your destination. Grab a pad of paper or a journal and craft your answers to these two questions. Be super detailed. And be really honest.

  • It’s your retirement party. Based on how you are currently leading today, what will your colleagues be saying about you? What will your family be saying about you? What will you be remembered for?
  • It’s your retirement party. What do you want your colleagues to say about you? What do you want your family to say about you? What do you want to be remembered for?


Is the way you’re leading today aligned with how you want to be remembered? If it’s not, what’s one thing that you can start to do that creates more alignment?

  1. Be Intentional in Your Action

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

At the end of the day, your legacy is going to be shaped by what you say and do, not by simply what you accomplished.

Ten years from now, will you be lauded for those awesome results you drove in 2016? Or that your PowerPoint decks had the beautiful transitions? Or that new product that you helped launch (which has gone through 30 iterations since you’ve moved on)?

Perhaps. But is that what you want to be remembered for?

These aren’t the things that create a legacy. Your legacy is created based on how you show up.

Will people remember you more for the moments you built them up or for the moments you let them down? The harsh words or the kind ones? The criticism or the encouragement?

What are the behaviours that you need to show up demonstrating to achieve your legacy vision? Set your intention each day to bring those behaviours to work…

I am kind. I am supportive. I am a good listener. I am generous with my praise and light with my criticism.

  1. Bring Others Along

“It takes two flints to make a fire.” Louisa May Alcott

I once read something that said that you shouldn’t share your goals with other people. Perhaps if your goal is to pull off a massive jewel heist, that’s good advice.

For leaders who are looking to improve their positive behaviours, that’s really dumb advice

Share your intentions with others. Ask them for input. “What’s one thing that I could do to get better at this?”

Keep it simple. Listen to their ideas. Put those ideas into action. Check in to see how they think you’re doing. Repeat.

Pay it forward and do the same for them. Great leaders help others build their legacies, too.

As a leader, we have a wonderful opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on every person who works for us. Don’t lose sight of that. Create your vision, set your intention and enlist the support of those around you. One day, many years from now, they’ll still be talking about how you changed their lives for the better. How cool is that?

Questions: Are you sleep walking as a leader? How do you maintain your sight on higher purposes? Please leave a comment in the space below.

Glain Roberts-McCabe is Founder of the Roundtable, a place where leaders cultivate their leadership, together through group and team coaching. She is the author of Did I REALLY Sign Up for This?! #leadership truths on how to drive, survive and thrive. The Roundtable was named the top External HR Advisory/Consultancy of the Year in 2016 by the Canadian HR Awards. Visit their website at http://www.goroundtable.com.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager, what legacy are you creating? You work with key individuals in the organization and you have a great opportunity to create a legacy in their eyes. Start incorporating these principles in your daily actions and you’re well on your way.

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