Most of us never deliberately attempt to learn much about the full scope and scale of our influence at work. Our legacy is something we think of only at the end of our tenure at a firm, or when we’re on the cusp of retirement. What’s more, when we do look back, we often measure success in broad terms of the firm’s growth, strategies fulfilled, or processes set or changed. We sometimes see how our work has influenced others, but only if the examples are obvious and publicized in the media (the most prominent example of this comes from prominent former GE executives reflecting Jack Welch’s style in their next endeavors).

The problem is that this conventional approach leaves a lot on the table. The approach we recommend, which we call legacy thinking, shouldn’t be relegated to the last stages of your turn at leadership. Instead, it should be a catalyst for action—a frame through which you reconcile your strategy and organizational vision with your own instincts and tendencies.

In the process, your legacy becomes a much more personal concept, and it marries the one-to-many nature of leadership with the one-to-one reality of day-to-day work.

Consider the people you see every day at work – clients, colleagues, employees. Your words and actions are having an effect on them. You are encouraging them to take creative risks (or discouraging them from doing so). By your example, you are teaching them that certain aspects of running a firm are more important than others. You may be showing them the highs and lows of being passionate about your work, or you may be showing them how awful it is to feel trapped in a job you can’t stand. Either way, these people leave their desks each day and return home with a more complete picture of you. Each day, they also leave their desks with a more complete sense of what you are doing for them, or to them, in either a positive or a negative sense. Over time, their behavior is likely to be shaped in some manner by yours.

There is a connection to be made between these streams of personal influence and a leader’s desired effect on the overall organization. But most often, leaders don’t recognize that connection explicitly. When you do recognize it, you can use legacy thinking to become a better leader.

Legacy thinking does a great deal for you as a leader: