Peter Drucker believed that the proof of a good leader is someone who makes themselves less and less indispensable. He felt that the worst thing would for an organization to collapse after that person left.
Barbara Walters retired this week, leaving behind a wealth of female journalists many of whom gathered for a sendoff on The View, her trademark show. She mentioned the word ‘legacy’ as she looked around at these talented women. Barbara was a pioneer, one who never backed down, but kept persevering even when the odds were against her. Today many take it for granted that women were always a part of the broadcast journalism picture, but it was not always the case. Born to humble beginnings, Barbara Walters worked her way up through the ranks becoming a writer on The Morning Show on CBS in 1955. From there she progressed to NBC’s The Today Show in 1961 as a writer and researcher. These advancements didn’t come overnight; Ms. Walters had to toil long and hard before gaining fame with the ABC Evening News, 20/20 and The View.
It gives us something to ponder, what is the legacy of our personal brand? We are creating something to truly express ourselves, something that we would like to be known by and possibly remembered. What do you leave behind? So you exit a job and you move on for professional reasons, perhaps a bigger role. What remains of the work you did during the time you were with the organization you’ve decamped? Will former colleagues think well of you, as someone who was helpful, knowledgeable, competent? Many people don’t even consider these things, yet they are surprised when they cannot get a reference after leaving ‘scorched earth’ behind them. We all want to move forward, but we need to remember that every project, job, assignment, contract, is one more way the world evaluates our usefulness. If you bail out, what remains?
Your personal brand reflects everything you’ve done, what you stand for, what you believe in. Your work, whether on projects, artistic pieces, or written pieces embodies who you are. It is something that is left after you have gone. It’s your chance to build your own personal memorial, whether it’s the leadership of an organization, a new product, a process, a song, a garden.
How will you be remembered? Recently, a former colleague reached out to me for some advice. Although it had been many years since we had worked together at the same company, it was nice to connect. After we had conferred on the issue, she told me that others spoke well of me at the organization. It was nice to hear that the time I had spent with that firm had proved to be useful to them. Just as we look for relevance, we also want to be remembered for something that we have done. Barbara Walters, a trailblazer and much admired broadcast journalist of our times, has left a legacy that will be sustained. Think carefully about the mark your personal brand will leave.