Recently I was at a woman’s memorial service in which the son read a poem he had written about his mother. In the poem he spoke to sifting through all her things – her jewelry, her mementos from countless wonderful foreign trips, her photos, her clothing, to try to ‘find’ her, and each time he noted, “and you were not there”. But finally, he said, he found her in the indomitable spirit of her children, in the devotion of a young man from another country she had relentlessly befriended, in the warmth in the eyes of the caretakers from her final days who rapidly adopted her as family.
She was ‘found’, he concluded, not in any of the more physical legacies she had so carefully maintained to be passed on to her family and friends, but in the reflections of her spirit and influence on others she had touched.
How often have you read the advice of gurus who admonish you to establish your leadership legacy in such things as – and I quote – “vision definition”, “innovation’, “implementing excellent process improvements”, “increasing customer-centricity”? The suggestion is that you want to differentiate your contribution from that of your peers, and that is how you will be remembered long after you are gone from the organization. But how often does someone in your organization fondly recall, “That Mandy Smith – she was just the most amazing contributor to our customer-centricity. Without her we’d never be where we are today.”?
Last year, a survey was done of leaders, asking them to identify the dominant characteristics of their own most admired leaders – the people they looked to for inspiration. Out of hundreds of leaders that were spontaneously identified, there was astonishing consistency in what made them so well-regarded. Where were those leaders found? Listen to the predominant themes:
- Mentors, develops and supports others, is generous with time
- Listens well, is empathetic, embraces diversity
- Builds relationships, is collaborative, brings people together, is inclusive
- Is passionate, has a strong personal mission, works toward a common greater good
Like the poem about the deceased mother, the most admired leaders’ strengths were not found in the work they’d done. They were found in the impact they made every day on the lives of those with whom they worked. They were not direct things they had done that made them so admired, but rather the reflections of their best selves in the people they inspired.
Where you leave your legacy is always a matter of intent. Where do you want to be found?
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant
Did you enjoy this article? Please join our email list to receive a bi-weekly blog digest. Know someone else who would like this article? Share it with them using the buttons below: