Friday, October 21, 2011


Let's say you are a manager who has worked in an organization for a number of years.  You have worked hard to create new processes and systems that assure that your division is working at top efficiency.  You have developed a policy manual, written rules, and if you happen to be in government, you have written ordinances, resolutions, and helped create laws that reflect the desires of the community.  And, today you receive an attractive offer to go to another organization.

You have enjoyed your work, put your heart and mind into the tasks of creating a great organization.  You feel invested in the success of your current employer.  But, this offer is too good to pass up.

As you pick up the phone to make the call accepting the offer you pause to think about what will happen to the people and systems you are leaving behind.  You think about your legacy.

Your thoughts may be that things will be just fine.  After all, you created the right rules, and set up the right processes.  What could possibly happen?

Six months after you leave you run into a team member from your old company.  The first thing out of her mouth is "Why did you leave?  Everything has changed.  It's not the same place without you."

This does not take you by surprise.  After all, the manager they hired to replace you changed all of the systems, rules, and processes. 

Your say, "Yes, I have heard that the systems all changed.  We had it running pretty well before I left, didn't we."

But your friend says, "It's not about systems and processes.  The new ones work as well as the old.  It's about how we work together, how we communicate, and how we feel about the organization.  It's about what is valued, and our pride in our work."

And, this is when you learn about your legacy.

All of this time you were thinking that the things you built, the words you wrote, the rules or laws you helped create, the way you made things run, was your legacy - what you were passing on to the next generation.

But, in reality, your legacy was found in the minds you touched, the values you instilled, the environment you created, and in your authenticity, your ethics, your vision, and your courage.

Systems and rules can be changed.  Structures can be torn down or sold.  Political tides can (and will) ebb and flow.  Corporate climate can change.  None of these contain your legacy.

The only thing you leave behind with any certainty is what is carried in the hearts and minds of those you have touched.

Use your time wisely, for whether it is short or long, it is not unlimited.  Give those who will carry on when you step out of the organization the gift of a legacy that will serve them well when they stand in your shoes.

Keat's Epitaph
Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

For another look at the concept of legacy, you might enjoy this blog entry found on the Fast Company web site - What Is Your Leadership Legacy by Craig Chappelow