Leadership & Legacy

new legacy final web

On a very long flight from London Ontario to Victoria, BC, (with a layover in Calgary longer than the combined flying time…), I read Rotman Management’s Fall 2013 issue, The Legacy Issue. The Oxford Canadian dictionary defines legacy as something handed down or bequeathed by a predecessor. The implicit assumption is that we will be somehow remembered for whatever we leave for those who follow.

As I enter the last third of my life, I’ve started to think more about what I am leaving to the next generation. Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto defines legacy in terms of two questions: Why are you on this planet? and, what is your purpose?  If your purpose is to make money, that’s up to you, but, if your purpose is to change the world for the better, then you are talking about a legacy.

I’ve been wrestling for a while with purpose. I struggle to stay focused enough to have a single minded purpose. I know that many of my friends experiencing the same struggle.

This morning it occurred to me that the ideal of legacy is possible the height of self-absorbtion. Or perhaps the result of living in an affluent society. Do I have nothing better to worry about than what people will think about what I have accomplished after I’m long gone and in the ground? That said, I still care about making a difference.

Many leadership and business pundits talk about the “BHAG”, the big, hairy, audacious goal. And for many people, legacy is about the BHAG.  I sometimes wonder, though, if a smaller legacy might prove to be more enduring. To make a real difference for a student, to be a positive influence in a child’s life. To help community organizations be more effective creating a stronger, more stable, more caring community. While these things might not be a Legacy with a Capital L, they may make more of a difference in the long run.  And in many ways, they are more satisfying than the Big L legacy. Just sayin’


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1 reply »

  1. Exactly. Legacy does not have to be big and obvious. We may not ever realize what our true legacy is/was because the impact we have on others is defined by others, not our intentions.

    It is not always a choice we have. We are watched and others learn from us whether we like it or not.

    Working now to make a difference, guided by values, is not an easy thing to do – it can be hard work. .For example, modelling the way for students or children means that one makes oneself vulnerable to judgement and accepting responsibility. Sometimes the best impression we can leave on another comes from making a mistake, admitting it, and growing from the learning that comes from the mistake.

    If I can do that for my kids I will have left a legacy with a capital L in my books.

    Thanks for sharing your insights Colleen!


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