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​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: Achieving the Legacy You Want to Leave

September 8, 2021
​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: Achieving the Legacy You Want to Leave

No one leaves a lasting legacy accidentally. Legacy is something that we must intentionally choose to achieve. It happens over time and throughout our lives, and it determines what we leave behind for generations to come.  

This week on the podcast, John Maxwell teaches the practices that leaders must embrace in order to achieve the legacies we choose to leave. For the application portion of the episode, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow discuss the legacies they want to leave and how they are practicing John’s principles to ensure they leave lasting legacies for their families and the people they impact through their leadership. 

Our BONUS resource for this episode is the fill-in-the-blank worksheet from John’s lesson. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below. 


Mark Cole:       Welcome to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. My name is Mark Cole and today I'm joined with my cohost Traci Morrow to talk about John's lesson. Now, today's John's lesson is Achieving the Legacy You Want to Leave. We have a choice in the kind of legacy we want to leave, but it requires work to achieve that legacy. See, when you have a legacy, behind that it means that you have lived your life for something bigger than yourself.

In this episode, John Maxwell will challenge us to think about what lasting things we want to leave behind for the next generation of leaders. In this lesson, John shares seven ways that will help you leave your leadership legacy. I'm excited because once John is done, we're going to take a moment and give observation from our perspective, Traci and my perspective on what John has taught and how we're living out here John's legacy. Now, here is John Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  When I talk about legacy, I'm talking about something that you leave behind. That's what a legacy is; it's something that you leave behind. It could be possessions that we pass onto the next generation, it could be people that we have influenced, and it could be principles that we have lived and taught. But here's what I know: To some degree, when we pass on, we will leave behind some possessions, some people, and some principles. They may be good, they may be bad. It may be a good legacy. It may be a negative legacy, but we will leave them behind.

Robert Gannon said, "All true civilization is 90% heirlooms and memories, an accumulation of small but precious deposits left by the countless generations that have gone on before us." Achieving the Legacy That You Want to Leave, this entire title of the lesson suggests two things; one, we have to work for the legacy that we want to leave. The word "achieving" tells me that no one leaves a good legacy without effort. What we leave behind tells probably how we got ahead.

Secondly, the title of this lesson suggests that we have a choice in the legacy that we want to leave. Again, it's the title, achieving the legacy you want, so you want everyone. See, everyone can choose the legacy that they will leave, and building a legacy, we must choose to become personally accountable. The title of this lesson also suggests one other thing is that we will leave a legacy, someone will be influenced by your legacy.

When we talk about a legacy, there are people who have influenced us. There are people that have influenced you by accident. Is that not true? I mean, they didn't really listen to a sophisticated lesson on legacy like you're privileged to listen to, but they influenced you. They didn't even know that they were influencing you perhaps. My Grandpa Maxwell, my dad's dad had a very strong determination, a strong will. Had a tremendous influence upon my young life. My Grandma Roe, my mother's mother, loved to travel. I caught the traveling bug from her. My mother loved me unconditionally. In the fifth grade, Mr. Horton really gave me a love for history because it came alive in the fifth grade and Wayne McConaughey, who lived right beside me when I was growing up, we'd watch ball games together. That's where I really developed a love for sports.

Then there are people who have influenced me on purpose. In other words, they realized that they had an influence with me, and so they decided that they were going to come alongside of me in perhaps a mentoring relationship, or at least in some kind of an extended friendship. They were going to pour into my life and deposit into my life things that would help me to be a better person. John Wooden, Coach Wooden of the UCLA Bruins is one of those people. The statement that you have in your notes right here is one that he gave me: "There's a choice that you have to make in everything you do, so keep in mind that in the end, the choice you made make makes you." That's powerful. If I've read that once, I've read it a hundred times. It helps me to understand the importance of choices.

Some people influence us on purpose, some not on purpose, but they're leaving a legacy. How do you and I on purpose achieve the legacy that we want to leave? Number one: Know the legacy that you want to leave. I guess the question that I ask each one of you that are listening today, and of course, our Maximum Impact listener, the question I'd ask you is: What do you want to leave your family? Or in other words, if you're going to deposit something of a legacy to your family, you've got to know what you want to leave: What I want to leave others beyond the family, I want to leave a generation of better leaders just behind me. I want to leave more leaders and better leaders.

A bottom line for that is I just really want to add value to the lives of others and questions that will help you to know the legacy that you should leave because probably right now, as you're writing this down and taking the notes, you're saying, "Well, how can I really center in on how I know what kind of legacy I want to leave?" I think there are three questions you want to ask yourself: "What are my responsibilities? In other words, what are the things I'm doing now? What are my abilities, the things I do well, and what are my opportunities, the things I should be doing?"

If you really look at those questions and work it through your own life, you'll begin to form and begin to know what you need to leave to your children and to those around you. It is a true statement. It's in your notes. Most people feel best about themselves when they give their best to something greater than themselves.

If you want to achieve the legacy that you want to leave, number one, you got to know the legacy that you want to leave. You got to know where you're going. That's very simple and obvious. You've got that. The second thing you want to do is you want to live the legacy that you want to leave. You not only want to know what you want to deposit in lives of others, but you've got to flesh it out. In your notes, you don't get to choose how you're going to die or when, you can only decide how you're going to live. In your notes, the old Middle Eastern blessing, "When you are born, you cried and the world rejoiced. May you live your life so that when you die, the world will cry and you will rejoice."

To achieve the legacy that we want to leave, number one, know the legacy you want to leave, and two, live the legacy you want to leave, and number three, use all the possible ways to pass on to others the legacy you want to leave. In other words, don't just do one thing. Do many things, be creative. People learn 89% visual, 10% audio, 1% through the other senses, so become creative in the ways that you want to pass on your legacy.

One of the great ways to pass on your legacy is to find out what their strength zone is and what they do well and subtle there with things that are very important to them. We found that to be very true with our children. When our daughter, Elizabeth was very young, she loved gymnastics, and I'll never forget when the Los Angeles Olympics, Margaret got tickets and took her up to see the gymnasts and the Olympics to try to help to spur the dream and kind of helping a little bit.

Our son was a techie kind of guy. I know nothing about technology. I'm still looking for them to come back with just a good old on-and-off switch. But our friend, Paul Nanay, was good with technology, and so made a deal with him. I would mentor him if he'd spend time with my son. They'd go out into the workshop and they'd spend hours together. I was trying to be as creative as I could and trying to help Joel with his strength zone, but be creative. Look at all kinds of ways to pass on your legacy.

Number four: Choose those who can best pass on the legacy that you want to leave. I'm speaking specifically now outside of the family. If you have a business, if you have an organization, you want to leave a legacy, pass it on. Legacies that matter are connected with people. A hundred years from now, all that will matter are the people that you connected with in such a way that you added value and meaning to their lives. You see, the final test of leadership is this: How the group performs when you're not around. Have we poured enough into those around us that when we're not around they do well? The ability to develop capable successors is the hallmark of great leaders. Ultimately, if your people can't do it without you, you haven't been successful in raising up other leaders.

In my book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the law of legacy says, "A leader's lasting value is measured by succession." Here's the question: How do you develop leaders? Well, the answer is kind of simple: Find potential leaders. But as soon as you write that down, you'll realize you really haven't answered the question. The second question: How do you find potential leaders? The answer to that is: Know what they look like. Know what they look like. You've got to have a picture.

When I wrote The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader and The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player, all I did in those two books was give a picture book, The 21 Qualities as a picture book of what a leader looks like, The 17 Qualities is a picture book of what a team player looks like. What I tell leaders all the time is if you don't know what a team player looks like, "Get the book and write the qualities out on a piece of paper. When you're interviewing somebody, just go through those qualities and say, 'Does this person have this? Does this person have this?'"

Now, why do we need to do that? Because if we're going to have a legacy, we have to choose who we're going to leave a legacy with. Our choice of who we're going to deposit our legacy in is going to greatly determine the ongoing success of our business. You see, potential leaders, let me just give you a quick picture here: Potential leaders make things happen, so when people say, "Well, how do I know a potential leader?" the first thing I tell them is, "Go find somebody that makes things happen. That's exactly where you start."

Let me just say it this way: Listen to me, my friend, if you can't make things happen for yourself, you can't make things happen for anyone else, so don't even go there. Have you ever known anybody that couldn't produce or give any results, but they thought they could go produce somebody that can give results? Like begets like. Do they make things happen? Number two: Do they influence others? Leadership is influence, so you look for the quality of influence. Do they have the ability to influence others? Three, here's a simple one: Do they think differently than followers? Fourth: Do they possess strong relational skills? Number five: Do they add value to others? Oh, my goodness. Pictures of a leader, what they look like. Get the picture of a leader and then go find them. You've got to choose who can best pass on the legacy that you want to leave. Number five: You have to teach them. You have to teach them the legacy that you want to leave.

We have all heard that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I also believe when the teacher is ready, the student appears. In my early years of teaching leadership, I had very few students. My wife, Margaret, used to go to those conferences with me and said, "John, you're killing the people. You're just killing them. You're just... Do you have to teach them and everything you know about leadership? You're killing them." She says, "Just look at them. They're begging for mercy. Set them free, John. Let them go, set them free." But I was passionate. It was just a small crowd and I had more stuff I just poured on and I had high energy and I'd look at everybody and say, "Wow, these are wimpy people. They need to get with it. What's wrong with these people?" Now that I look back, it's with great amusement, with great amusement.

You see, there's a relationship. It is true that when the teacher appears, when that teacher comes to maturity, the students will appear, too. You basically will probably have just about the crowd that you deserve. Water seeks its own level. What I've discovered is in pouring lives into others in teaching them, teaching is effective when the following occurs, number one: The students are motivated. By the way, let me just stop here for a moment and say: You have no idea how much fun it is to teach you. I mean, your head's down half the time taking notes, either that, or you're playing tic-tac-toe with your friend right beside you. I mean, you're just soaking this up. A lot of you are young leaders and you're just soaking it up and it's a lot of fun to teach people that love to learn and love to grow.

Students are motivated. That's the first thing, teachings becomes effective when the students are... But second, when the lessons are practical. In other words, when you can understand them, and not only understand them, but when you can apply them. Isn't it wonderful to learn something that you can take home with you immediately and apply? Isn't it wonderful to learn something that really works? Thirdly, when the resources are provided, when not only do we teach, but we provide resources that really complement what we teach, and number four, when assignments are given, and number five, when accountability is requested. Number six: Teach others to teach others the legacy that you want to leave. Wow. Teach others to teach others the legacy you want to leave.

Paul told Timothy, this is the verse I've used for, oh, my goodness, 30 years, "Pass on what you have heard from me to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others." You see, Timothy teaches us, number one: Be a river, not a reservoir. Pass on what you've heard from me. Let it flow through you. Be a river. Don't dam it up. Don't hold it for yourself. Don't try to hold it to yourself. Number two: Pick the right people to pass on the legacy because he said, "Be sure to do this with reliable leaders." Thirdly: Expect them to pass it on to the next generation because he said, "These reliable leaders need to be competent teach others." In other words, "Let this legacy go for three generations."

Number seven: Believe in those you leave. Believe in the people that you instill this legacy. Elton Trueblood wrote, "We have made at least a start in discovering the meaning in human life when we plant shade trees under which we know full well we will never sit." Those who leave a legacy have a long view of life. They know that before they came, someone built a bridge for them, and they know that as they leave, they must build a bridge for someone who will come behind them. Let me just wrap this up. I close with this statement because it's so true: Leaving a good legacy is a way of saying thank you, thank you to God, life, family, and others.

Mark Cole:       Hey, we hope that you just enjoyed that. Traci and I are sitting in studio today and just really inspired by what John shared. In fact, Jake came up to me, our podcast producer, and he said, "Mark, I think one of the favorite things that we did was observed John Maxwell's legacy in a four-part series we did on the legacy of Melvin Maxwell, John's dad." In fact, if you missed that, maybe you're new to our podcast, maybe you forgot about it, maybe you saved it in your library and it's no longer there, I'm going to challenge you to go to and you will get to hear more about this legacy idea. Traci, that is a lesson we're living around here.

Traci Morrow:  It is. It's a deep lesson and John kicked it off by saying, "Legacy is something you leave behind." I can't help but think that we have some podcast friends. I know I've probably thought it at different times. I think sometimes when we think "legacy," it's such a huge word, it's such a big concept. I think maybe we think years down the road, when we're old, we think about legacy, or when we're getting near the end of our time here on planet Earth. But I love what John says that differentiates that. He says, "An inheritance is something we leave to people. Legacy is what we leave in people," so that means we don't start thinking about legacy when we have a head full of gray hair, we start thinking about legacy now because whether or not we choose it, we are leaving a legacy in people in how we treat them and how we interact with them.

Let me just kick off before I toss it to you. I want to share a story. My grandmother came to America with her father from Slovenia, formerly Yugoslavia, so I grew up, that was our heritage. Her name was Annie Tauter. When she was an only child, she was three years old, and her mother passed away. Her father never remarried, so she grew up as a little girl in a new country without a mom and any siblings, and so what she craved was family. It was so important to her to have a large family, and so when she grew up in married my grandfather, she was 16 when she married my grandfather. They were married just shy of 73 years when he passed away and they had nine children. From those nine children and the spouses that they had and the grandkids and great-grandkids, and I believe now some great-great-grandkids, they've now passed away, but there are more than 160 of us from my grandmother and my grandfather. We are their legacy.

What we do to this day, it was always important to her to gather, and so I am a part of her legacy now. I've now taught it to my kids now. I have a grandson and it will go to that next generation of she chose that the legacy she wanted to leave was putting family as... That doesn't mean we were a perfect family. We have a lot of messy pieces, too, like every family, but we continue to gather and connect. That was important to her, so we still do it in honor of her today, even though a lot of those great-grandchildren never even met her. I am continually thinking about what I want to leave into my kids, and now as I begin to have grandchildren, but Mark, it can be family. It's not just in my family that that legacy is important, but also with the people that I work with in honoring their family alongside of building a business and something of importance. What is it that you want to leave in people?

Mark Cole:       Traci, I love that that you shared about your grandmother and that significance that played out through the nine children. I know we all put "fun" in "dysfunction." I got that. My family's like that, too. But not only do we see that in Melvin and what I shared about his podcast, Traci, but we see that in your grandmother and the impact that you're still carrying. So many people, some don't even know their parents or don't have this rich heritage to draw from. But that's not John's point here. John's point here is you get to choose right now. Don't wait till you're too late, till you're too old. Don't wait till you've done something great. Start considering right now what you're passing on to the next generation.

Traci, just a few moments ago before we were recording, you were asking me this question, "Mark, are you thinking about what you're pouring into others? What do you think about what John has poured into you?" Maybe, Traci, that's where we can go with this discussion because that is the point: We are all creating legacy right now. Even those of you that are our youngest podcast listeners, what you're doing now will mark others. That's the point John's teaching here.

Traci Morrow:  That's exactly right, especially when he talks about succession. The leader's lasting value is measured by succession and what we're leaving in people. It's fascinating for all of us. Maybe the podcast is the only part that you... Maybe you just found John and Mark, and you are like, "Oh, I didn't even know about John Maxwell." Where have you been, living under a rock? But as John is talking about succession, you are the person he is passing the baton to, Mark. It's fun to be able to see John do it because all things John does, he teaches us by what he does, and then he breaks it down. There are lessons that you and John have done about succession and how you effectively pass the baton.

But we are also the legs of his legacy, all of us who are listening to the podcast, all of us who are involved in what John and mark are doing out in the world, John says, "You are the legs to my legacy," and we get to carry that baton as well, so we're in that with you, Mark. But I'm curious, first of all, what is it like to be the successor to John Maxwell? Second of all, you said the last couple of years has been the first time John has started talking about succession with you. Are you thinking already about succession? Should we be thinking about that when we feel like you, "Hey, we've got our best years in front of us still, we've still got a few decades still"? Are we thinking about succession at this stage? Are you?

Mark Cole:       Yeah. On those two questions, let me start with the first one, Traci: What does it feel like for that responsibility of John Maxwell's legacy? Podcast listeners, when you hear words like "legacy" or "succession," we create this mysticism around it. It's very mystical to us: "Oh, my. Legacy? I've got to have accomplished X. I've got to be this old. I've got to have this kind of a following on my Instagram." We feel like we've got these thresholds before we think of these very mystical words, or we've got to be an old person to think about succession.

I don't think these words are mystical. I think every one of us are contributing a footprint, something significant in the world that needs to be delivered through somebody else, passed on, which will lead me to the second question that you ask: How intentional am I doing that? I'm going to come to that question, I promise you, Traci, but how does it feel? It feels very heavy some days. It feels very overwhelming many days that John would look to me and hand me a baton and say, "Hey, man, I think our future is brighter than anything we've ever done. Hey, Mark. I think the impact of my work/your work will be greater 50 years from now than it has been in the past 50 years."

Those are weighty visionary statements, they're heavy, and so I can get caught up in that, or I can just go, "Hey, I'm privileged to be here and demystify it," and just say, "Hey, all I've got to do is bring my best. All I've got to do." John, if he selected right in letting me be a prominent part of carrying his legacy, then it'll work out. John did a lesson several episodes ago on this podcast called The Four Questions to Identify Potential Leaders. John used those four questions to identify if I was capable of carrying his legacy. You can find that podcast, by the way, that episode, at Again, it's just talking about finding people worth pouring into so that they can carry forward something you deposit in them.

Now, back to your other question, your second question: Am I thinking about that right now? Oh, am I thinking about it? My daughter, Macy, whom I've talked about on this podcast just turned 15, Traci, since the last time you and I have talked. I have now been prayed up, my insurance is valued up, and my insurance, life insurance, I met with a doctor this morning to get more life insurance on me because I'm now driving around, being driven by a 15-year-old.

Now, that's all fun, but here's the real point: In three years from now, she won't be driving me around, she'll be taking whatever car she has to college. She will be done living at home as an adolescent. Every single day of her 15th year, while she's driving the car, I'm going to be doing my best to deposit something in her about where she is going, I've determined. Every time she gets behind the wheel and dad's in the seat riding shotgun, I'm going to draw an analogy on where we're going physically in the car to where she's going literally with her life, and I'm going to be depositing in her the way I have visualized purpose in going somewhere in life, paralleling it to her going somewhere in the car. Now, that's legacy.

Gang, I don't know if you like that, or you think that's the cheesiest thing, or you think I'm crazy for riding with a 15-year-old. All of those are probably true, but I can tell you this right here: I am thinking legacy succession with my daughter and her 15th year of life is going to be a very intentional one on how she articulates and pursues what she wants to do and where she wants to go in life.

Traci Morrow:  What you did right there was teach us something, you put something in us because I also have a 15-year-old who I sit next to him and I am praying and sweating and clutching the sides, but that is something else, though, that I want to do. I want to do the same thing, and so that's just what these conversations are so good for is because we say where we're at today and what we're looking at and what we're being intentional about and then we all take it into our relationships, and really, relationships, everything, it's about people. It's about relationships. Everything we do in life is for growing and building up relationships with people.

When John was closing out, he was quoting what Timothy teaches us. It says, "Be a river, not a reservoir. Pick the right people to pass on the legacy." What better person to pass it on to than to Macy, your daughter? "Expect them to pass it on to the next generation. Make sure that they know the baton will eventually be passed to them," because when we're young, we sometimes think we'll live forever and we won't be old for ages and ages, but if we start training them up now and putting into them the legacy that they will one day have succession and pass it on to the next generation because right now, we are the next generation. Every time John teaches us, we are all the next generation and we need to make sure that we are following John's lead.

This is a huge lesson, Mark. We've just barely scratched the surface, but I think each person is hearing it and is going to apply the idea of legacy and creating the kind of legacy that they want to leave intentionally into the people that they care about. Some of them, it's the first time they've ever thought of it. For some of you, you've been working on it. It's another layered learning of "Yes, I'm right on track," or, "There are some things I want to tweak."

If you just want to close us out, I just want to encourage all of you to remember that every word that you speak to a person, and not that we have to be perfect, because sometimes what we leave in people is asking forgiveness and being humble, that's a beautiful thing to leave in people, so it's not just always getting it right but asking forgiveness when we get it wrong, but we are all in the process of leaving a great legacy. That is our way of saying thank you back to John for the time he gives to us.

Mark Cole:       Well, Traci, I'll go just one step deeper in my Macy story since you're relating with me on your own 15-year-old. The second trip she was driving us on the first day she got her license, I just got her out there, she wanted it, I wanted her to have it, and so we got her out there. She came to a stop sign and she felt like the only function of a stop sign was to stop. Then literally, she stopped, made sure she stopped, and then she forgot to look left and started turning right. I was like, "Hey, Macy, you might want to look left before you go. You don't just have to stop and turn, you got to check things out." Then I gave her the illustration of when you get a new opportunity in life, that sometimes you just start going with the opportunity and you forget to look at all the different things that could be coming that could impede your ability to get there. Great life lesson. It was excellent. We used it as a teaching point.

Here's my point: So many times when we realize that there are those that look to us for the influence, we don't consider it a legacy opportunity. We just consider it a function of leadership, a function of parenting, a function of letting Macy learn how to drive. I would challenge you to let John challenge you in this lesson to see any level of influence you have with anyone in your life as an opportunity to leave a legacy. Don't mystify it. Don't make it unachievable, but also, don't abdicate and not make it a responsibility to consider that everything, even as simple as me and Traci trying to teach a couple of 15-year-olds how to drive and not make our insurance rates go up. Just all I'm telling you is all around you is a legacy opportunity. Everything around you has potential to be deposited with you into someone else to carry on the influence that you have.

I close this segment with a scripture that matters a lot to me. I've got a foundation of faith, and so forgive me for just a moment as I pull back on that with this statement, this scripture, this admonition that says, "To him or her who have been given much, much is required." If you have something don't consider "much" as in a certain threshold, but if you have something that can be given to someone else, you have the privilege of legacy. That's what John's sharing today. You have the privilege of extending your influence through this lesson.

Thanks for listening. I hope you downloaded the show notes from Hey, that's where all of our show notes are. I mentioned Melvin Maxwell's four-part series. I mentioned the four questions to identify potential leaders. In today's show notes are all of those links. We hope they add value to you. We hope you'll pass along to somebody else this podcast and we hope to see you next week. Let's lead and change the world.

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