Your Legacy Is Day n+1

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 12-08-21

Whether you are providing a service to a client, or operating as a leader in an organization, how do you think about what you want to accomplish?

I propose the most useful framing is to think about day n+1. In other words, what is there the day after you depart, n being the day you depart, whether that’s 5 days or 5,000 days after you begin? This is how I have always tried to think about my service delivery to clients previously as a consultant, and now as an advisor or coach. What happens the day after I leave? Is the organization stronger and stronger heading forward, or do things start deteriorating the day after the engagement is over? 

I have witnessed the impact of numerous consulting organizations, one of which will remain nameless but I had the experience of following them over 20 times. This consulting firm would come into a client, promise, and deliver very measurable financial results, and then the day after the engagement their selected metric would start falling apart, mostly because of what damage was done in the pursuit of that promised target. If you’re really good at selling, you can convince the client that it is their fault for not taking good care of what you handed them, but there is more to it than that. There are many ingredients to the success of what you leave behind. Quite frankly, if it does not stick, then THAT is your legacy. 

This is similar to another rule-of-thumb I adopted. That is to always deliver more value than you got paid for. This could be viewed, perhaps, more selfishly because if you always leave a client with a favorable opinion about what they received, they are more likely to either use you again or refer you to someone else. My point is this…that adopting an n+1 mindset is not always about being altruistic or selfless, but can actually serve you quite well. 

Thinking about day n+1 is similar to the common advice of writing your obituary or tombstone epitaph before you die, although hopefully less gruesome. The power is to view legacy through a long-term view, and also an outside-in perspective. The value of this exercise is that you are no longer in a position to correct your own failings, no longer in a position to do good, no longer able to accomplish what you always wanted to do. What will be the view of others in that inevitable moment? However, the difference is that this backward-looking view is often framed in vague statements such as “he was a good man.” Day n+1 is a bit more tangible…what will be true on that day? 

There is a very practical benefit to adopting this mindset. It can help accelerate the important but not urgent items on your list. There is no more tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…tomorrow becomes today because we become hyper-aware of the fact that tomorrow may not come, whether it be because of the tombstone reason or just because you left your job or client engagement or project. 

The most effective leaders, from my vantage point, adopt this perspective wholeheartedly. Some do it naturally, and always adopt a long-term view that outlasts them. Others accomplish the same through practice, reflection, and planning. It is not easy to put into practice, because it only becomes real when you make trade-offs sacrificing the short-term and certain for the long-term and uncertain. The most effective leaders know how to make those trade-offs. How do you want your impact, on your job, your organization, or your life, interpreted?