Your legacy is what people say about you after you move on – graduate from high school, college, take a new job. The person responsible for your legacy is looking at you in the mirror. We tend to think of legacy as being something for old people, have-beens, those past their prime. Not true. I recently learned a lot about the importance of legacy from two young professionals just beginning their business careers – both are interns.
In April, I was approached by the parents of a tremendously talented student, Lauren, who was about to enter her senior year of college. Lauren had a summer internship in New York City at a large consulting firm. However, she had almost four weeks off between the end of the school year and the start of her job in New York. Taking time to chill and enjoy life was not an option because Lauren simply isn’t wired that way. Her top 5 strengths include Deliberative, Achiever, Input, Intellection and Learner. Her parents asked if Lauren might work for me for a month.
My first reaction, as it always is when asked if I can take on a young person to shadow and learn from me, was “No.” Not because I don’t want to work with them, but because the nature of my engagements often include sensitive team or individual information. Confidentiality and trust is the foundation of my work. I require supreme professionalism in my business – it’s part of my brand. This makes it difficult to introduce new people into the mix. In addition, I am perpetually overworked and overwhelmed (I do realize the onus of this problem is on me and I am working to fix it). The idea of adding time to train a person, including how I expect them to conduct themselves, is simply not possible in my current operating environment.
However, I knew Lauren, and she knew me. I knew her talents, because we’d done a family engagement. That meant she had a solid understanding of my Destination Unstoppable program. I had observed Lauren’s demeanor around other people. Uber professional. Kind. Encouraging. I was also completely aware of the immense brainpower that Lauren possessed.
My mind strategically ticked through a list of projects that have languished on my bottomless to do list. I could have her attack research on some new markets I wanted to penetrate. I could have her do some work associated with my book that had been on my back burner for far too long. These were actual deliverables that she could complete in her short time with the mutual benefit of making her feel productive and helping me achieve my goals. When I compiled all those pluses, it was clear to me that this opportunity was a win/win. Plus, I knew that Lauren would be a great brand ambassador for me and my company.
Let’s pause and emphasize this critical point. When I help aspiring professionals prepare for a job search, I emphasize the importance of helping the potential employer understand what a great brand ambassador the candidate in question will be for the company. This reduces the risk of hiring the person – and hiring someone is all about risk reduction. Being a great brand ambassador is also a net value add – meaning that not only can the talented young person do the job, they’ll make the company look good while doing it. Think of the best nurse you’ve ever had – they make the hospital experience better. They represent the brand well. Conversely, consider the worst nurse you’ve ever had and reflect upon how they diminished your experience and the brand of the hospital or doctor they worked for.
A real-world truth is that every employee is the face of the company to every client they interact with. Creating a positive impression can be more important than the employee could possibly fathom. Now, tuck this paragraph back into your brain, and we’ll come back to it later.
Lauren and I spoke via phone, and I explained my thoughts as described above. She was all in.
We had a blast. Lauren tackled the projects I gave her. We unlocked her 34 strengths so that we could see the rest of her toolkit, and we had a good coaching conversation diving into how Lauren can use all that horsepower to be successful in her internship, last year of university, and beyond.
The first test of her role as a brand ambassador came in a virtual meeting with one of my clients, Robbie. He is launching a new business in Switzerland. I met Robbie when I spoke in Geneva earlier this year. He’s Irish, and like many Irish, he’s a delight to be around. He’s also very thoughtful. I had asked Robbie if he minded that Lauren join us in our meeting, and he welcomed the idea.
Robbie put Lauren at ease by asking her to tell him about her work in school. When Lauren described her dual major of Marketing and Organization and Strategic Management, with a minor in Psychology, Robbie encouraged her to speak up during the meeting because that perspective would be useful to him. It was fun to watch Lauren contribute and Robbie support her input. It went so well that when Robbie had a follow-on meeting with my brother, Matt Monte, and his company to discuss building Robbie’s new business website, I had Lauren attend without me. Lauren passed the Brand Ambassador Test with flying colors.
Lauren continued to impress me and my clients. Lauren attended my virtual workshop with two HR leaders that I’m working with at a National Governing Body sports organization on the east coast, listening a lot and asking good questions. When Lauren provided fabulous support to me at an event where I had been invited to speak, one of the people at Lauren’s table, a very well-known leader in the community, blurted out, “Would you be willing to move to Dallas and marry my son?” We laughed. I didn’t blame him at all for asking the question, and I didn’t blame Lauren for politely declining the offer.
Three weeks into our work together, Lauren delivered the consulting work I had requested. It was superb. Specific. Detailed and well-organized, in an easy to read, multi-tabbed spreadsheet representing the different categories I had asked her to research. Some had links to documents that contained more information. It was consulting work. I was a strategy consultant at IBM for years, and Lauren’s work was right up there with the kind of deliverables we created for our clients.
Then came the best part yet. I had been asked to conduct a Destination Unstoppable workshop with a large organization in Detroit that had long been a user of StrengthsFinder. The leadership team was familiar with the assessment and results, but unfamiliar with my approach to using the information to help teams reach their full potential. The VP of Organizational Effectiveness graciously allowed me to include Lauren.
The workshop was excellent and fast-paced. It was fun to expand their horizons in a team environment. During lunch, Lauren had a chance to speak at length with the VP. After the workshop, he took her to the “continuous improvement” dashboard the company used. It was enormous and impressive. Lauren had studied the subject in school and was enthralled. I stood back and watched the two of them have a mind meld over how to make the organization the best it could be.
As we walked out, I laughed and said to Lauren, “You asked, ‘Is that CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT?’ like other people say, ‘Is that GEORGE CLOONEY?’” We had a good laugh about that.
Here’s the most critical point of all – proof that business is personal. A few weeks later, I had breakfast with that same VP. He said, “I have a favor to ask of you. I’d really like Lauren to meet my daughter. She’s a teenager, and I’d like her to see what she might be like when she grows up. The two are quite similar.”
Now think about that. I bring Lauren to “observe” my workshop with his team. Shortly thereafter, he is asking for Lauren to meet his daughter. He sees her as a role model. And consider how that reflects upon my reputation and my company. It’s wonderful. Lauren deserved every kudo he gave.
On our last day together, Lauren and I had lunch. She presented me with a gift. Two, actually. One was a book that I can’t wait to read (it discusses a strength that neither one of us has!), and the other was a manila envelope. I opened it.
My jaw dropped. It was an eleven-page document that Lauren had prepared after “watching me work” for a month. It was filled with intellectual gold – ideas and suggestions for improving my efficiency, for elevating the effectiveness of my work. I was thrilled. I’ve read it and re-read it, highlighting and underlining those things that I want to prioritize and act on immediately.
That brings us to Lauren’s legacy. She checked all the boxes. She was likeable (click here for a blog on that topic). She was professional. She was a magnificent brand ambassador. And she did great work. In a single month, Lauren delivered multiple consultant-level documents that can help me achieve my goals. One of my most important and valuable clients wanted Lauren to meet his daughter. That is Lauren’s month-long legacy.
Now to our other intern. Remember earlier I spoke about the importance of being a great brand ambassador for those you work for? Recently, a congressional intern took it upon herself to straighten out President Trump. As he walked past, the intern screamed, “Mr. President, F— you!” Then she ran away.
This young lady is about the same age as Lauren. She is probably doing great work in her role. Before we jump to conclusions, let me say that I don’t believe this young lady is a bad person. I think she has bad judgment. This young lady is a brand ambassador for the congresswoman simply by the fact that she is employed by her, and therefore her actions directly reflect on that congresswoman. Yikes.
My mind went to this question: If the intern thought this was a good idea, what else might she do?
Raise your hand if you’re perfect. You are not. I am not. We all make mistakes, and how we respond to the mistake is really the measure of our character.
Having said that, be a good coach by remembering what it’s like to be in a new environment (click here for my blog on that) and at the same time, honor the Rule of Stupids (click here for that blog) – don’t do stupid things at stupid times in stupid places around stupid people.
I feel bad for the young woman. Employers google the names of applicants looking for red flags. This intern’s name and her unfortunate outburst will be the first thing employers see, likely forever. It will may be the “neon sign” of her legacy no matter what else she does for as long as she lives. Ouch.
Both interns offer lessons for aspiring professionals.
- When you are employed by someone, you are a brand ambassador for that employer whether you know it or not and whether you accept it or not. Be a responsible one.
- Your legacy will follow you like a shadow. As the world teeters in a downward spiral of incivility, you can truly stand out by being professional, polite, and hard working.
What does your legacy say about you? What do those who interact with you say about you? What stories do they tell? Keep an eye on the long haul, even when you’re seized by the impulse to do or say something that is counterproductive. Easy to say, hard to do.
I’m so proud of my intern, Lauren. I am grateful for her professionalism and hard work. Most of all, I can’t wait to see what company wins the lottery by hiring her. Lauren is the total package and is the real deal. I recommend her without reservation. Her legacy speaks for itself – as all legacies do.
Therefore, I believe we can all agree that my Destination Unstoppable Person of the Week simply has to be my fabulous intern, Lauren! Please congratulate her for joining a growing list of talented people on the path to Destination Unstoppable! (You can click here to follow me on Face Book and learn about other Destination Unstoppable People/Teams of the Week.)