One only has to listen to a sports program for a few minutes to realize the importance we give to someone’s “legacy”. Who is the greatest? Was it the number of touchdowns, goals, points per game, strikeouts, etc., that marks their place in glory?
There are similar examples in the business and entertainment world. Success is measured by the amount of money, status or fame or the individual. We glorify their methods of achievements when we buy their books proclaiming the steps we should emulate so we can become like them.
The problem with this model is to judge someone’s legacy by their achievements, and not by how they got them. This promotes a culture that concludes it is a dog-eat-dog-world out there, and, therefore, the ends justify the means. This model encourages the idea people must do anything to be successful, even if what they do harms others. It also teaches that nice guys finish last.
Although I admire many of the people our society glorifies, the fact remains that proclaiming their method of achievement as something people should copy is often flawed.
What is in one’s legacy
Recently I had the privilege to travel to Denver to take part in the 25th Birthday of Denver’s International Airport. I was there to take part in a fun part of the celebration along with the current and former Denver Mayors and the current Colorado Governor along with two former Governors, all who had influenced the success of the airport up to this point.
This experience reminded me of my career that was cultivated in the State of Colorado and the City of Denver. This career is summarized in my four pages long resume that punctuate the titles and accomplishments of my forty plus year career as an engineer, administrator and politician. This resume is nothing more than my adult version of the merit badges I earned.
I had not been back in Denver for several years and it was nice to see friends and colleagues of an era gone by. Surprisingly, no one spoke to me about those magnificent projects we worked on that dominated our lives. Instead, former colleagues overwhelmed me with their feelings of gratitude for having placed my trust in them and for the encouragement I gave them to become the best they could be. Several mentioned their efforts to recreate the work environment they had experienced under my leadership. Some even mentioned how now, in times of trouble, they ask themselves, “what would Guillermo do?”
It is interesting to note that they mentioned none of my titles or accomplishments. In fact, I am sure no one remembers what those were other than me and my resume. Many of the roads and bridges I had a hand constructing are now being replaced by more modern infrastructure. Therein lies the lesson I learned during this visit; the material things of this world we rely on to determine our self-worth are illusions. The brilliance of our titles, accomplishments and fame fades away like that of a once favorite suit you eventually donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. However, the legacy of love you build with the people around you lasts forever.
I was never the best at anything in particular. I was neither a bad athlete or student, but never good enough for others to be singled out for those things. This self-knowledge turned out to be the most valuable attribute I brought into the workplace, for I always understood I had to rely on others to be successful.
Experience allowed me to recognize the things that encourage people to come together and I began implementing them as an integral part of my management strategy. This is what my friends reminded me of in this latest Denver visit. It is also why I think creating a lasting legacy is an inside job. It is about choosing the attributes of love.
Elements of love in leadership
I believe a Higher Power fashioned us to create a greater good. From this foundation, I found these five virtues that create a real legacy.
1) Working towards a just cause or for the benefit of the community at large rewards employees with a greater sense of joy and satisfaction than anything else. Show with your actions and words that you believe in this greater cause and others will adopt this view.
2) Value the contribution of every member of your team. We do nothing alone, there are always others helping us. Distribute respect and recognition to all who contribute, and you will create a team and work environment they will remember and emulate throughout their lives.
3) Accept others as they are. Every human life is a unique journey. There are not two of us alike. Stop expecting them to be like you or some model of perfection you have created in your mind. When you learn to value a person as they are, you will see how they add value to the group and society at large.
4) Everyone needs someone to believe in them, for this gives them the courage and confidence to fly with their own wings. Encourage people to grow, even when that means they will leave your team. This is how you help spread the good teachings you gave them.
5) Love and honor doing what you believe to be the right thing. There are no real formulas for right or wrong in life, we create those beliefs. It is our commitment to loving and following these beliefs that defines our duty to honor and integrity. How do we know we are doing the right thing? When we are proud of our actions no matter who is looking over our shoulders.
I can’t come up with a better conclusion for this blog than with the words of comedian Garry Shandling.
“Nice guys always finish firsts, if you don’t know that, then you don’t know where the finish line is.”
Remember, paying gratitude for your life forward will reward you with feelings of joy and contentment.