The L³ Alliance (Lifestyle, Legacy, and Leading by example) is the women’s group for the Wells International Foundation. Founder & CEO, Dr. Monique Y. Wells, believes it is important for high-achieving professional women to keep the idea of legacy “top of mind” and to observe how doing so influences their impact as leaders. She invites women leaders to reflect on this concept by contributing to the What Does Legacy Mean to You? article series.

Victoria Russell is the first Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Beam Suntory. In this newly created role, she joins the company’s Senior Leadership Team and leads diversity and inclusion across talent acquisition, career development and employee retention, marketing, community relations, and building organizational capability to better recognize bias and further drive inclusive mindset. In today’s article, Russell talks about the personal reason she is so passionate about legacy.

L³ Alliance: What does the word “legacy” mean to you?

VR: To me, legacy is evidence of the impact your life made on this world and more importantly, the difference you made to those around you. Legacy is not just how you’ll be remembered, but whether or not you can continue to positively impact the lives of others, long after you’re gone.

L³ Alliance: How does it apply to you right now as a woman who is a leader in your field?

VR: In 2018, at just 37 years old, I was given the gift of self-reflection when my mother passed away.  She had battled stage 4 ovarian cancer for 2 years.  I remembered we had just celebrated Mother’s Day.  Two days later, my Mom said she was “ready to go,” and she passed Saturday morning.

I remember those days in vivid detail.  My mother had been thoughtful in planning for this moment.  Everything was in order.  What I remember in those final months was how intently she parted with any material possessions. At the funeral, people spoke so joyfully about my mother and the impact she had on their life.  She had been a middle school science teacher most of her career.  She touched the lives of so many and they remembered her fondly.

Shortly after, I asked myself, “How will I be remembered?” “What will people say when I’m gone?” “What difference will I have made?”

At her funeral, no one talked about the car my mother drove or the clothes she wore. It was all about her influence on people. The way they felt and continue to feel about her, the impact that she had on their lives.  That experience led me into my current career in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

A few months after my mother’s passing, I was offered the role of Chief of DEI at Papa John’s in the midst of the organization’s most turbulent time in history.  My career and my purpose converged at this opportunity.  It’s been the most challenging personal and professional experience I’ve had, but indeed the most rewarding.

L³ Alliance: Do you believe there is a relationship between leadership and legacy? 

VR: I absolutely believe in the linkage between legacy and leadership!

L³ Alliance: Please describe for us what the relationship is. 

VR: I believe at the intersection of true leadership and legacy lies intent and purpose.  Leadership is the ability to inspire and influence.  In order to do that authentically and successfully, you must have identified your own purpose here on earth.

To truly inspire, your purpose must be greater than yourself.  This … is your legacy.  Intentionality around understanding the legacy you wish to leave and being intentional in its pursuit is the key.  Identifying this early in your life/career can accelerate your leadership impact and time on the journey.

L³ Alliance: How can keeping legacy “top of mind” help you be a better leader?

VR: This goes back to intentionality.  If you are focused and intentional, you are mindful to make sure that your actions, your decisions, and your behaviors always ladder up to your legacy.   Keeping it “top of mind” keeps you on track and focused on your end goal.

Working towards your legacy takes a lifetime and it easy to get distracted or off course.   Life happens to us all and some flexibility is necessary and may warrant some course corrections along the way.  However, your purpose is greater than yourself, and allows you the opportunity to re-center and remain focused.