We Long to Leave a Legacy

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Imagine that you attend the funeral of a friend and the following scene unfolds. After the body has been laid to rest and people gather in the widow’s home, a short program begins. Each of the deceased’s five children will share a few words about their dad. As each child takes their turn, some time is needed to collect their emotions. Feelings of love, honor, and appreciation fills the room. The stories beautifully illustrate the qualities admired and appreciated in their father. Everyone emphatically agrees with what is being said. Each attendee could share numerous stories that would affirm the virtues honored by the children.

The day is an incredible celebration of your friend’s legacy. Attendees are mourning no doubt, but it is the good kind of mourning. Everyone is mourning the loss of what they had and missed very much. Nobody was mourning the loss of what they never experienced and wished they did, which is the most painful type of mourning. This man lived with ultimate intentionality, that is, with his funeral in mind. He prioritized the eulogy virtues over the resume virtues. He began each day re-prioritizing his values and re-dedicating himself to the people that mattered most to him. Living with that level of purpose led to the legacy you witnessed at his funeral. When it comes to leaving a legacy, there are not short-cuts. 

Universal Hunger to Leave a Legacy

There is a universal hunger in the heart of every one of us to leave a legacy. What does it mean to leave a legacy? In simple terms, a legacy is that which is passed from one generation to the next. Most of us think of gifts of money or property. However, the deepest longing is to leave a legacy of character which goes beyond the financial assets you bestow to the next generation. When you live each day with a real desire to leave a legacy, you naturally gain a strong sense of meaning, mattering, and contribution. Living for legacy’s sake seems to tap into the deepest part of one’s heart and soul. It brings out the best and subordinates the rest.

Qualities That Last Beyond the Grave

Can you think of someone in your life, past or present, that made an impact on you? Can you identify the qualities that made them special? I have asked this question of many audiences. Rarely does anyone put their boss at the top of the list, unless they happen to be attending the talk together! For most of us, the leader that made the most impact on us was a parent, teacher, spiritual mentor or coach. Real leadership is not a role or a title. It is not a function or a position. Leadership is influence and impact, nothing more and nothing less (thank you, John Maxwell).

When people are asked to identify qualities in the leaders they most admire, they rarely identify, “financial management” “the ability to drive performance” “long-term strategic planning” or “effective decision-maker.”  Rather, they talk about virtues like inspiration, empathy, honesty, integrity, compassion, resilience, fortitude, kindness, and presence. They almost always say, “I felt inspired and hopeful in their presence.” The best leaders model the way of living a fruitful, contributing life. Others consistently share stories of how the leader helped them dream more, do more, and become more in all facets of life – not just at work.

Eulogy Virtues and Resume Virtues

I recently read The Road to Character by David Brooks. It was recommended to me by a younger leader whom I deeply respect, so it became my vacation reading. I found the opening paragraph incredibly insightful. It gave me a language for the findings I have been discovering with audiences when asking them about the leaders they most admire. Here is an excerpt.

“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”

Go here for a five-minute video featuring David Brooks explaining the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

Leaders that others willingly follow, prioritize the eulogy virtues over the resume virtues. They do not ignore the resume virtues and most have an impressive list of resume virtues but these leaders are more committed to the eulogy virtues. It is both/and not either/or.

For example, as they drive better performance throughout the organization they have empathetic interactions where people walk away feeling understood by the boss and more empowered to keep it real.

As they develop a long-term strategic plan, they encourage the hearts of their people by sharing stories as well as priorities, inspiring anecdotes as well as convincing data.

Magnanimity: Balancing Virtues That Are Seemingly Opposed 

The best leaders are magnanimous, balancing, within their soulful presence, seemingly contradictory aptitudes and qualities. They live with fierceness and tenderness. They live empathy and accountability. They balance a relentless focus on improving team performance with individuated care for the whole person, every person.

Think about the average workplace. Most employees (up to 86% according to the Centre for Creative Leadership) believe we are living in a leadership crisis. Most employees would not follow their boss if they did not have to. Think of the negative impact, lost productivity, and disengagement because millions of people are being led by uninspiring, mediocre leaders. It’s pretty staggering.

I believe the issue is this: positional leaders often operate as propped-up kings and queens. Leaning on their title to get people to do what they want them to do. That’s a shallow and deficient approach to leadership. It doesn’t generate the kind of employee engagement needed in today’s workplace.

I’m convinced that when leaders live the eulogy virtues they will increase employee engagement and cultivate a healthier culture which helps the organization better accomplish its mission. And that looks good on any resume.

Simple and effective insights to help live the life you are called