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What ‘legacy’ in a police career should look like

Legacy is a byproduct of hard work and servitude — if you bring your best to your agency each day, you will create a legacy

I’ve recently been applying for positions that require a formal interview process. This is always a challenging experience as you never know specifically what the interviewer is going to ask. You can have a general idea leadership, police operations, philosophy but the devil is in the details and in these situations there are many unknowns.

A few weeks ago, I fielded an unusual interview question, “What will be your legacy?”

While I answered the question honestly at the time, it caused me to reflect on how much effort should be put into creating a legacy.

Why Aren’t You Working on Your Legacy?
I was not putting much effort into creating a “legacy” as part of my police career. At first I saw this as a problem and struggled with the concept for quite some time.

Why hadn’t I been doing this? Should I be directing more energy for this? What did I want my legacy to be? Was there one specific thing I wanted to change? Something I felt I could improve? Were my efforts to be directed within my agency or industry wide?

Then something fascinating happened. Just like when you receive a radio transmission telling you to be on the lookout for a silver car with maroon striping and you start seeing them everywhere, the concept of legacy began showing up all around me. I actually was involved in several conversations where people offered — without solicitation — to tell me what legacy they were working to leave.

Each time someone offered this topic for conversation, I found myself cringing on the inside. Why I was reacting like this? What was my issue with this whole “legacy” thing?

After weeks of reflection, I realized the greatest and most meaningful work is done by a leader when he or she is in full service to others. What this means is you cannot intentionally work to create a legacy, because the focus of the work and the positive intention of the result is no longer directed toward benefiting others, instead it is focused on yourself and your reward for the action. When you are giving your all to your team or your agency, a legacy is created through your actions of service and hard work.

Why You Shouldn’t Work to Create a Legacy
Legacy is a byproduct of hard work and servitude — if you bring your best to your agency each day, you will create a legacy. If you try your hardest to be the leader your team needs, your legacy will create itself. If you have a passion for community programs and outreach, your involvement will impact others in a way that will bring the benefits to your community and your actions will matter. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Your legacy is created when you work toward being your best each day of your career. This is not something you can intentionally create; it either is or is not.

If you want to have a lasting impact on the industry, focus on yourself and being the best you can be in both your personal and professional life. Trying is faking it. To create a legacy, you have to live it. Creating a community program, launching a growth project, introducing processes for more efficient functioning; these are all great efforts. If your full intention is not focused on helping others, no legacy will be created.

The influence you have on the people at your agency, in your community or at home — these are the areas where your legacy will be created. Your right efforts, your level of personal commitment to excellence, and your involvement in helping others succeed; this is the stuff legacy is made of. While you are busy caring about the details, your legacy will begin to take form. This will not happen because you are trying to leave a legacy, but because you are making a difference by modeling honorable behavior and helping others succeed.

Dr. Laura L. V. King currently serves as the Chief of Police for the McHenry County Conservation District. Prior to her current assignment, she served as the Commander of the Support Services Division of the McHenry (Illinois) Police Department from 1996-2016. Chief King has had many officer wellness-related articles published in various professional journals. She works as a subject matter expert for BJA’s VALOR for Blue program and travels the country speaking on matters of mental wellness, psychological resiliency and physical fitness. Chief King earned her doctorate of philosophy and her master’s degree in psychology at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minnesota and works to use her formal education to inform and improve law enforcement operations. She is a graduate of both Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command and of Session 265 of the FBI’s National Academy.