When you’re just getting your head around your new CEO role, it might feel counterintuitive to start thinking about what your leadership legacy will be when you eventually move on to your next challenge.

Recent data suggests you’ll probably be in your role only three to five years—that’s now the average CEO tenure, according to the latest Korn Ferry research. Given that building a strong legacy takes years, if you don’t start working on it now, then you might find your CEO tenure ends, to quote T.S. Eliot, “not with a bang but a whimper.”

But with so many demands on your time as a new CEO, should you really add “legacy planning” to your vast to-do list?

Absolutely, says Elise O. Schroeter, Global Head Organization & Talent Strategy, Board & CEO Practice at Korn Ferry. She explains, “It’s critically important to start thinking about your legacy from the beginning. Otherwise, you’re like a rudderless ship. Legacy – fueled by your purpose – helps you steer.”

Protect your leadership reputation

Whether your tenure turns out to be three or 10 years, you probably have an eye on the impact you want to make and the roles you might want to undertake next. That might be in the C-suite of another organization, or as a Board member, interim or consultant for your current or other companies.

But if you don’t have a leadership legacy you’re proud of when you walk out the door, you might find many of the more desirable career paths less available to you. In fact, your legacy will probably be apparent even before you leave. Your leadership approach and values, your impact on employees and the industry, the direction you’ve taken the business in, and the path the business is on will be clear to anyone taking an interest in your career.

Conversely, if you have made lasting positive changes, you are likely to be recognized as the go-to choice for roles elsewhere within and outside of your industry. And if you’re passionate about any particular issues, and your legacy is linked to those, you’ll also have the reputation needed to help drive positive change around those issues.

Leadership legacy vs. purpose

As CEO, you didn’t just drift along and accidentally find yourself at the helm of an organization. To reach the position of CEO, you need to be ambitious and have goals in mind for your business, your industry—and yourself.

Some might call it ego, but it’s rarely about pure status. You probably have a strong belief that your experience and insight will help you leave a business better than it was when you arrived. But there can be confusion about the difference between legacy and purpose—and that’s because the two are closely connected.

Defining your purpose might show why you’re the right person to be leading this company. And legacy will show whether you have achieved that purpose. It’s a proof point of your success—or failure.

Intersecting legacy planning with your purpose puts parameters and expectations around how you show up. Crucially, it ensures you have a clear long-term strategy that will guide the numerous short-term targets and objectives you’ll need to tackle to achieve your legacy.

Planning early on for the legacy you want to build allows you to bring focus to your vision and purpose, making it tangible rather than lofty.

For example, if your purpose is to improve your organization’s sustainability while maintaining profitability, you can use your legacy planning to think about what that would look like in three to five years. This will give you measurable long-term sustainability results, which will form a key part of your legacy when you move on.

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Building a solid leadership framework

You might go into your new role with a strong sense of purpose, but you don’t always know what you’re going to find when you arrive. It can take a while to understand what the Board expects of you and how to navigate the politics of the C-suite. And no matter how detailed your strategy, external events can come along that could derail your plans.

All of these factors mean you need to be agile, and in some cases, could require you to completely pivot. But if you establish your purpose and leadership legacy objective early on, it will provide a north star to help you navigate unpredictable waters.

“Without purpose that leads you to your legacy, you will not be able to withstand pressures to flip and flap in every direction,” explains Schroeter. “Legacy planning gives you conviction when you are being challenged at every turn. It provides guideposts to govern the decisions you make.” So no matter the challenges that come your way, having a legacy framework will keep you true to your long-term path.

Fostering collaboration through your leadership legacy

Whatever you want your legacy to be, you can’t create it alone. You need to define and clearly articulate it from the very start of your tenure. Communication is key to get everyone aligned with your vision and purpose, which fuels your legacy.

By defining your legacy early on in your CEO tenure, then sharing it through your purpose and vision with your key stakeholders and team, you’ll have a much greater chance of success. You need strong and widespread collaboration in order to achieve your legacy. You can’t build it alone.

Putting people at the heart of your legacy—ensuring they are proud to say they worked with you and learned from you and are keen to pass their learnings on—can create a multi-generational legacy, ensuring that the transformations you make keep having an impact long after your successor is in place.

“Legacy planning allows you to build the next generation behind you, set up your successor in a positive way, and live your purpose,” says Schroeter.

Make it happen

Discover how you can start the process of devising a CEO legacy, and learn how to strategically plan it with Korn Ferry’s CEO Impact Accelerator