THE BLOG
11/26/2012 02:06 pm ET | Updated Jan 26, 2013

If John McCain Were My Client: An Executive Coach's Take on Minding Your Legacy

As power, career and relevance wind down, it's admirable for a leader to care for their legacy -- to be deliberate and mindful about what they leave behind.

"How do you want to be remembered?" and "What do you need to do, and avoid doing, to ensure your legacy is you at your best?" are defining questions I ask my executive clients at the important final stage of their leadership.

Based on his behavior in recent months, Arizona Senator John McCain is taking a turn for the worse on the legacy front, and at an important wind-down stage of his distinguished career. Just as I would for a client, I worry that he will leave behind the wrong legacy, one of rancor and recklessness rather than greatness.

There is a great McCain -- war hero, candidate who defended his competitor during his own campaign town hall meeting in 2008, saying, "I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States," -- and the sloppy slugger McCain, who's been more prominent recently.

Holding a joint press conference decrying the administration's unanswered questions on the embassy attack in Benghazi while skipping a simultaneous Benghazi briefing is one of many recent examples. Another is his preemptive criticism and promise to block any potential nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice for Secretary of State based on a faulty understanding of the intentions of the intelligence community at the time of Rice's TV appearances on Benghazi. In both examples the Arizona senator isn't doing any good for anyone, including himself.

I would ask Senator McCain if he wants his legacy to be one of integrity and heroism in the face of opposition, or one of rancor and paranoia. I would challenge him to reflect and respond in a more measured way, rather than react, to key events. Let's hear from John the mature statesman, rather than what's been on display recently.

I'm certainly not suggesting he walk quietly into the good night -- that's both unlikely and unfitting. Yet being the addled and seemingly disoriented slugger neither protects nor projects a positive legacy. I can't help but hope he wouldn't want that, if he were to stop and think about it.

After all, the senator has dedicated his life to public service, which is to be commended. He is therefore committing an unforced error on his legacy, and it would be a shame for him to tip the scales further toward pathetic rather than powerful.

Instead, in his remaining time, I hope Senator McCain will be more mindful of his legacy than he has in recent months. While I am not a fan, it would be preferable to remember him as the venerable leader he has often been.