Legacy, most simply stated, is something that is handed down by a predecessor or ancestor—whether it is money, reputation, or manners.

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately suggesting that a logical progression for young companies is from start-up to scale-up to legacy.   They offer the typical how-to insights—five steps to clarify vision, instill values, etc, etc… Mostly it’s the same old “guru speak” that is easier said than done when you are hustling like crazy to grow your business, attract and keep talent, and differentiate in a crazy-making, fast paced market.

At the end, however, most attempts at legacy fail. We all know about good leaders who create great businesses or initiatives, only to hear from employees and customers that all too soon after the charismatic leader is gone—so are the things that made that organization special.

We’ve also heard the stories of legacy gone wrong. The great leader who is remembered for the mistakes they made going out the door rather than the intentional and positive changes and choices made when they were actively leading.

Actually leaving a legacy is very, very tricky and unpredictable.

So what is a leader to do? How should they imprint their vision, values, and the dream for future “greatness” as a company grows?

By creating a legend rather than a legacy. A legend is a powerful story of the time something was great. Legends inspire. Legends are what heroic futures are built upon.

 How do you build a legend—you design a legendary culture

  1. Know the core beliefs and assumptions that are driving behavior in your organization, and be willing to put them on the table; shift the beliefs to shift the behavior when necessary.
  2. Build Trust. With the sense of safety and mutual respect that comes with trust, you can safely discuss anything that is in the way of legendary success. With trust you can fly.
  3. Be compassionately honest – with yourself, your employees, and your customers. Honesty and authenticity drive the greatest opportunity for breakthroughs. You can do this with compassion. How to get to this level of honesty – see number 3 above.
  4. Be accountable. Always. About everything. Don’t dodge, don’t blame, and don’t cover your ass. Step up. Own it. Fix it. Reward your team for owning (and learning from) their mistakes. Strive to make new mistakes—and own those too. Take the shame out of the organization. This one step has magical powers for legend building.
  5. Believe – in yourself, in your team and in what you are creating together. If you genuinely believe in what you are doing and in what you are building, you will carry the “code” for enthusiasm and belief into every conversation, every meeting, every pitch, and every strategy. As community beings, sincerity and purpose is inspiring. It makes us want to follow.

Most importantly, to create a legend, you have to learn to tell a great story—actually lots of great stories. People love a great story. We love to hear them and we love to tell them. When you can build compelling stories about the past, present, and future, you invite everyone in the organization to see themselves in the legend. The stories you build around beliefs, trust, honesty and accountability become touchstones for the culture. They will be remembered. They will become legendary.

And so will your company.