11/29/2011 01:49 am ET Updated Jan 29, 2012

Define Your Own Legacy, Don't Leave it to Everyone Else

What's the moment that will define Reed Hastings' legacy? Right now, many people would point to the moment when he reversed the decision to create Qwikster - perhaps too late to win back angry customers and disillusioned investors. But perhaps he faces his defining moment now, when so many have written him off.

I'm talking about moments that define the future of a company, its people, and its brand - moments that changes the lives of its customers, like when Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. A defining moment can also be negative, like when Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme was revealed.
Too many leaders in these challenging times are focusing on survival and reinvention, when they should also be paying attention to their legacy - not to promote themselves, but to have a positive impact on the whole organization and community. They should be asking themselves: What is my leadership agenda? Does it account for the needs of others? Does it take into account what's most important for the advancement of the organization and its people?

In the past few months, I have challenged America's leadership about their relevancy and authenticity and the reaction has been overwhelming. I have been amazed by the number of people who questioned the agendas, attitudes and authenticity of our leaders. People are hungry for authentic and transparent leadership. More than ever, people want to be a part of something meaningful and purposeful. We are desperate for innovation and entrepreneurship to help restart our economy and reclaim our position as a global market leader in technology, education, automobiles, and the rest.

I have met recently with several Fortune 500 executives. When I asked one executive about what he desires most for his organization, he responded: "We need to refresh the mindset and attitude of our employees. We need new ways of thinking to inspire our culture. We are stuck, and we can't hide from it any longer." When I asked what he wanted his legacy to be, he had trouble finding an answer.
You should always be thinking about your legacy. Remember, most people want to be led, and your legacy is something that should authentically represent who you are and what you stand for. Don't disappoint. Define your own legacy. It is your personal responsibility to do so. What would others predict your legacy will be? Does that represent who you really are?

Leaders must commit themselves to a cultural promise in order to define their legacy. Why? Because the challenges that we face today require focusing on others, not just ourselves.

What is your legacy? How would others define it? What actions will you take and encourage others to make after reading this article?