21 Ways to Leave a Lasting Legacy No Matter What You Make, Sell, or Do

by  David Dye  |  Self Leadership

What Does It Mean?

You could see it from the road…

The image of a lizard chipped into the stone’s desert varnish.

It’s nearly three feet long, over 1,000 years old, and probably took the artist several months to complete.

Standing on that hot windswept ledge with my wife and daughter in the Utah desert, many miles from the nearest person or car, looking at an ancient masterpiece, it was hard not to think about legacy.

Why is it there? What did the artist mean to communicate? What does it have to say to us?

Many of these answers are lost in antiquity. We simply don’t know whether the images had spiritual significance, were ancient billboards, or were artistic displays meant to celebrate their subjects and the artists’ ability.

What Will Survive You?

Every day you go about your work: you work with your team to make things, or sell things, or learn things, or work with clients and customers.

If you are especially talented or fortunate, you may make something that endures and changes the world…maybe.

But even if you do make, learn, or sell something amazing – how long will it endure? How long will it have significance? (The petroglyph lizard is very cool, but no longer has its original significance.)

Long after you are finished with your reports, spreadsheets, fundraising, meetings…long after the organization you started or work for has closed, sold, or you have left it…long after your daily work is forgotten…

What will survive you?

It isn’t the “stuff” – the products, the sales, the decisions…many times, it’s not even the organization. These things are no guarantee of a legacy.

It’s the people.

Long after everything else fades away, your influence, your relationships, and how you impact the people around you…these things endure.

21 Ways To Leave a Legacy With Your Team

  1. Treat yourself as a human being – Create room in your life to laugh, to love, and to grieve. Invest in relationships that connect you to yourself and to life. It’s hard to treat others with human dignity if you don’t first do it for yourself.
  2. Listen – hear the joy, grief, frustration, and enjoyment in others. Learn their values, what motivates them.
  3. Create times to share life with your team. Something as simple as a meal and a discussion of dreams and accomplishments connect you to the people around you.
  4. Do not take yourself too seriously. The engineers sending astronauts into outer space factor in some margin of error – you are permitted to make mistakes. Learn from them. Then try it again.
  5. Invest in healthy conflict – from Crucial Conversations: when you’re upset with someone, ask yourself why a reasonable, rational person would do such a thing, find out what part of the story you’re missing, focus on solving the problem AND building the relationship
  6. Make eye contact, greet people, wish them well. Ask “how are you” and wait for the answer.
  7. When team members are struggling, ask how you can help.
  8. When you screw up, apologize.
  9. Acknowledge tough decisions – don’t sugarcoat difficult truths. Be upfront about suffering and appreciate individual and team sacrifice.
  10. Be sincere. If you can’t talk about something, say so.
  11. Once you’ve trained and equipped people, get out of their way.
  12. Celebrate success. Celebrate failed experiments. Celebrate the past, celebrate progress, celebrate present persistence.
  13. Expect excellence, practice fairness. Firm, but fair.
  14. When someone’s spouse or child is very sick, send them home.
  15. Say thank you.
  16. Imagine yourself in the other person’s situation. How would you want to be treated?
  17. Always, always, always treat people with dignity. Even when terminating employment, you are talking to another human being. Your own humanity is at stake. Don’t compromise it.
  18. People are never problems. They may not be a good fit. They may have stolen something. They may be quarrelsome. You may have to remove them from the team – but those are problem behaviors. People are not problems.
  19. Give opportunities – to stretch, to grow, to tackle a new challenge.
  20. Nurture strength – be on the look out for talents, ability, and passion. Invest in it. Provide opportunities for others to learn more and work out of their strength…even if it means they leave your team.
  21. Every day acknowledge the beauty, skill, or competence in someone – and include yourself!

Your Turn

How do you ensure that no matter what you make, sell, or do, your impact on people outlives you?

Take care,

David M. Dye

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By david-dye
I work with leaders who want to build teams that care and get more done with fewer headaches.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Mike Henry  |  20 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Great list David. I’m on a kick related to #20 lately. It’s not just nurturing others’ strengths. It’s acknowledging where they’re stronger than you and allowing them the opportunity to develop their super-hero skill. We’re all great at something. I’ve worked for too many people who won’t let you be better than they are. I want everyone around me to be better at something than I am.

Thanks for the great post! Certainly got me thinking. Mike…

David M. Dye  |  20 Mar 2013  |  Reply

Thanks, Mike – great elaboration on #20. I love your phrase: “their super-hero skill”. What a great way to think of it!

It takes a very secure leader to encourage others’ growth…beyond the leader’s abilities and perhaps beyond their team. I’ve also known leaders who selfishly stifled others’ growth so as not to lose their contributions to the team. Of course, you’ll lose them eventually anyway, but without the legacy and achievement.

Take care,


Martin Smith  |  25 Mar 2013  |  Reply


Excellent piece. I love tips 9 – 13, but they are all great tips. I would add tackle BHAGs too. Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, a term made popular by Jim Collins in Good To Great, are the stuff of legacy. In the summer of 2010 I survived cancer AND rode a bicycle across America.

Martin’s Ride To Cure Cancer was a 20 year old BHAG that felt like it needed accomplishing NOW since NOW is all we are ever promised. I may have learned the NOW lesson the hard way, but it is an invaluable one.

Now I’m working with the talented team at Atlantic BT, a Raleigh based software and web development company where I am the Director of Marketing, to create Cure Cancer Starter will be a crowdfunding platform for cancer research. Our goal is to cut out the middlemen that take 50% off the top for self perpetuating marketing and plug cancer patients, their friends and families (and their money :) directly into the research process.

By eliminating the gatekeepers we speed up research and so the cure for cancer. I know what you mean about legacy. The third thought I had after hearing “cancer” and my name in the same sentence was about my legacy. Sure I’ve made a lot of big companies a lot of money and WHO CARES. In the end none of those accomplishments have legs, they don’t last.

Family, friends and those who love you is where your legacy resides. I’m all in on Cure Cancer Starter using my 401K to fund the project. I couldn’t afford to make such a gesture if I didn’t have cancer, so life’s ironies never cease to amaze. Do I care if Martin Smith is remembered? Not at all. Do I care about helping cancer patients their friends and families? Yes very much.

There is a kinship in a chemo room that is hard to describe. We are instant friends and fellow travelers. There is pain there, but glory and grace too. I want to spend my time focusing on recreating that kinship, that special connection because in there is where LEGACY lives, in there, in that special generous grace, is where we cure cancer so our children and their children will only have to know about cancer from what they read in books not by remembering who they lost.

That is a legacy worth a BHAG :). Great post.


Martin W. Smith
Marketing Director
Atlantic BT

Founder, Cure Cancer Starter

David M. Dye  |  01 Apr 2013  |  Reply


Thank you for the encouraging and inspiring comment.

I fully endorse the notion of BHAGs and you give us a great example. Congratulations on overcoming your cancer and creating a platform to help others!

You really get at the heart of legacy – it resides in the people we impact.

Appreciate you!

Take care,


Join The Conversation