Building a Legacy

Leadership author and motivational speaker Mark Sanborn shared a keynote speech in which he talked about the difference between creating your resume and building your legacy.  Sanborn suggested that to build our legacy, we have to change our focus in 5 key ways — we have to focus on:

  1. Building Relationships instead of earning results;
  2. Leaving an Impact instead of leaving impressions;
  3. Making Contributions instead of listing accomplishments;
  4. Helping others improve instead of self-improvement; and
  5. Making a Difference instead of making money.

Sanborn described our legacy in this personal and relational way:

This resonates strongly with me personally.  We all have a finite amount of time to write our life’s story on our journey through life, and when I die, I sincerely hope and pray that my legacy will not be tied to any physical object or structure that I leave behind, or found in the words of one of my blogs or presentations.  The desire of my heart is that my legacy will refect a life well-lived if it is revealed by the lives of people who I have been privileged to touch in some way.  People that I was honored to be on this life’s journey with and honored to know, to learn from, to believe in, to encourage, to inspire, to motivate, to lead, to serve, or to help in some way.  In other words, I want my legacy to be defined by the differences I made in the lives of others along my life’s journey.

“The value of a well-lived life is found in the relationships that are built along the way.  We make a difference when we sincerely desire to get to know people and to touch their lives in a positive, affirming, and helpful way.  Lives are not changed at a distance — they are changed when we connect personally, intentionally, and genuinely with people.” ~Janet N. Spriggs

I love the definition of a great leader as someone who does not set out to lead, but rather who sets out to Make a Difference — to be a Difference Maker.  David Sturt of the OC Tanner Institute said that “Great Difference Makers shift from seeing themselves as workers with an assignment to crank out, to seeing themselves as people with a difference to make.” 

Regardless of whether or not we have a title or a position that specifically puts us in a leadership role, we all have opportunities to choose to be leaders.  When we find ourselves faced with those leadership opportunities, we can choose a leadership path or a leadership path that is focused on Leading to Make a Difference.   I am not suggesting that either of these two choices is a wrong choice — no matter which path we choose, we can be successful.  For me, the underlying factor in which decision to make lies in Sanborn’s theory about whether our goal is to create a resume, or to build a legacy, and I believe that is everyone’s individual and personal choice to make.    For me personally, I would add another question to help me make the choice:  How many people can I positively and personally impact if I make my focus about the difference I can possibly make in others’ lives?  

Last week, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at my college’s 2017 Student Leadership Banquet, and much of the content of this blog is borne from that keynote.  I took this assignment very seriously for several reasons:  first, in all honesty and in the interest of always trying to be both vulnerable and transparent, I confesss that I did not want to embarrass myself or “look bad” in front of my boss, (the College President), my colleagues (the President’s leadership team and other staff and faculty), my division’s team members who look to me for leadership and direction everyday, or most importantly our students.  I wanted all of those constituent groups to leave the event without losing faith in me as an educator and leader, and I especially did not want to let our students down.  Anyone who works in education knows that the “students” are our life — they are why we do what we do — the people we spend our lives serving and supporting.  It was very important to me to share a message that inspired, but one that also connected with our students personally, right where they are, and that hopefully left them motivated to start building their legacy.

As I reflected on the way to do a good job for all of those reasons, I realized that I was focused on the wrong things and I was letting selfish fear influence the way I crafted my speech.  My focus was about how this keynote was going to affect “me”, and if I wanted to do the best job that I could do for our students, I had to listen to the message that I was sharing with the students and shift my focus away from what I had to gain or lose.  I had already mapped out my content — I had a personal example from one of our students as well as two other examples from the higher education arena to illustrate the difference between focusing on leading for personal achievement versus leading to make a difference.  Also, I had already developed my final three concluding audience “takeaways” to encourage and inspire our students to:  Live Your Life as a Difference Maker.

I realized that what I really needed to do to make a difference to the students and guests who heard my keynote that evening was to “practice what I was about to preach“.  So I took my own advice and delivered a keynote that was crafted to make a difference for others instead of focused on making myself look good (or at the very least, keeping myself from looking bad).  And I did that by using my three audience “takeaways” as my guiding principles:

  1. Be Bold.  I had to stop letting the self-conscious voice that sometimes gets in my head trying to make me doubt myself, get in the way of my opportunity to share a message that had the ability to make a difference in someone’s life — even if it was only a small opportunity or only one person that may be touched in some small way.
  2. Be Courageous.  Sometimes to make a difference, we have to face our fears or even take a risk that is unpopular, or in some cases dangerous.  I had to face my fear of speaking boldly, vulnerably, and authentically to my peers, and in the end, I realized there was no reason to fear being genuine with them anyway.  Sometimes the way we allow fear to grow in our imaginations is far worse than the reality of what the actual moment will be like.
  3. Build a Legacy that leaves the world better because of the Difference You Made!  My final takeaway for the students and others in the audience that evening spoke the loudest to me personally.  I will add this keynote to my list of accomplishments that are listed on my resume (yes, we all still need a resume).  However, I also realized that I had an opportunity that evening to do something more than just add another check mark to my resume — I also had the opportunity to make a contribution In the lives of many students.  I had 20 minutes to find a way to personally connect with around 50 people, and how great would it be, if within that timeframe, something that I shared or the way that I shared it, resonated with just one of them and made a difference in the way they approached their next opportunity to choose a path of leading or leading to make a difference.

Right now, today, and everyday . . . We are all writing our story . . . The story of our life’s journey.  We are the authors of our story and the authors of our resume.  But we are also the builders of our legacies.

Be Bold . . . Be Courageous . . . Build a legacy that leaves the world better because YOU MADE A DIFFERENCE!

Authentically yours,


(Adapted from Keynote at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College 2017 Student Leaderhsip Banquet:  Going Beyond Leadership:  Being a Differene Maker, May 1, 2017.)

1 Comment

  1. Congratulations! Your are such a positive person and certain one who makes a difference in people’s lives. Keep up the good work.
    Love and blessings.
    Aunt Betty

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