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You’re Leading and Leaving a Legacy — Act Accordingly

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Everything we do is creating influence and our legacy.

Your actions and reactions have influence. Whether you’re intentional about how you show up or not, your presence will define you. You’re either building up or tearing down your personal brand, team culture and those around you with every action every day. That might be hard to think about — every action, every day? Yes, every action, every day! Although the last article in this series talked about this, it’s important enough to reiterate it here.

David Whyte is a poet, speaker and the author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. He found that “every action taken, from the moment we switch off the alarm clock in the morning to the way we write a line of poetry or design a product, has the potential to change the world, leave it cold with indifference, or perhaps more commonly, nudge it infinitesimally in the direction of good or evil.” Similarly, Jody Davids, a senior vice president at PepsiCo and author of A Tale of Two Heroes, said that you must “know that you will have a legacy. Act accordingly.”

Everything we do is creating influence and our legacy. Our action or inaction, our speech or silence, our engagement or disengagement — everything we do, intentionally or unintentionally, is being observed by others and will determine our legacy. Act accordingly indeed!

Now the fact that everything you do creates influence can lead to paranoia. That’s certainly not the intent of pointing out this fact. It’s simply meant to provide an awareness of how you choose to show up. Any action without this awareness may very well result in influencing others in a way that’s not aligned with the kind of leader we want to be. Tom Murphy, the chief information officer at the University of Pennsylvania, shared a lesson with me about how he learned about his actions getting in the way of his message. He had just given a motivational talk to his staff. He left them energized and inspired about organizational changes on the horizon. As he left a meeting later that day, he walked across the sky-bridge spanning two buildings of the company. It was there that someone else noticed him portraying a negative demeanor. His head was down, his shoulders were slouched and his gaze was a distant stare. He said, “I had no idea I was conveying that message until it was pointed out to me. That was certainly not my intention, but I learned quickly that I can completely undo everything I just said by the nonverbal signals I send. As leaders, we need to be self-aware. We need to realize that we’re on stage all the time and people are watching and taking cues from not only the verbal, but also the nonverbal messages we send. We’re always being judged and always influencing those around us.”

Think about your role in your organization, in your family and in your community. Think about the activities and experiences you face every day. Some, no doubt, are joyous. Others may challenge your beliefs. It’s for this reason that Marc Varner, the chief information security officer at YUM! Brands, told me, “Bad days will come that will put you under pressure and you may not act the way you would want to act. It’s because those days will come that you need to know who you are, what you stand for and what you want to be known for.” Your actions in these situations will be your legacy.

We all face moments when the makeup of our legacy is threatened to be lost and when “positive” leadership seems out of reach, yet it’s times like these that require us to demonstrate our positivity, hope and leadership. It’s during times like these that we need to leverage care, consideration and patience. It’s during times like these that we need to know who we are, the brand we aim to display, what we stand for and the legacy we want to leave. It’s times like these that make us need to know what we’ll do with the world as we find it. It’s times like these that you must know the answer to the question, “What shows up when I do?”

This question is about presence and intentionality. The best leaders never forget that whether you’re intentional or not, your presence shows up. So be more than simply prepared for bad days and challenging circumstances. Be intentional!

Be intentional about who you are and what you do. Be intentional about your attitude, thoughts, actions and reactions, mental readiness, emotional balance and physical presence. Be intentional about it all. Your legacy is depending upon it and will be defined by it.

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About Tim Rahschulte, Ph.D. (Full Bio)

Chief Executive Officer, The Professional Development Academy

Tim Rahschulte is the CEO of the Professional Development Academy and chief architect of the NACo High Performance Leadership Program ( He is the co-author of “My Best Advice: Proven Rules for Effective Leadership.”