What’s Your Legacy?
We probably all agree that it would be great to leave an amazing legacy when we die…people remember our good work or our financial benevolence or our intelligent guidance in achieving extraordinary results. That’s all well and good, but what kind of legacy are we leaving right now when we walk out of a meeting, leave a performance review or get off the phone with a family member?
What if we made it a point to leave a legacy every time we were in contact with someone, and by legacy I am referring to an ability to help people feel better simply be interacting with them. I recall once visiting the World War II Museum in New Orleans, and reading something that President Dwight Eisenhower’s classmate at West Point said about him. He was so charismatic to be around, according to this friend, that when Dwight looked at you, you always felt moved to do whatever he asked, you couldn’t help yourself. I’m paraphrasing rather badly here, but you get the idea.
Positive psychology’s mission
Just as psychologists are now embracing positive psychology as a new measure to strive for—get people from normal and functioning to wonderfully happy and joyous—we can do the same thing in the corporate world. Instead of expecting work to be seriously unpleasant with two days of concentrated weekend fun, why not turn that old belief on its head. By concentrating on how people feel after the meeting/phone call/performance review (fill in the blank) we start to create a more empathetic work environment, and with folks feeling acknowledged everything starts getting better.
With all the room in the world, she sat by me
So what exactly does a living legacy look like? As I was initially writing this I was sitting in the Houston Hobby Airport and stopped in the food court to grab a quick dinner. In the process it reminded me of being in the exact same food court not too long ago when something very strange happened. Some great musicians were playing in the main thoroughfare and I was pleased to find two empty long tables where I could sit in front of the musicians and enjoy their talent while having dinner. I bought some Chinese food, positioned myself where I could enjoy the music and much to my dismay and surprise a woman sat directly in front of me, blocking out my view of the musicians. This is about like being the only person in a relatively small deli or diner and someone comes in and sits next to you. Bizarre!
I ignored her for a few minutes while I pondered why on earth she chose to sat across from me when she had acres of open seating, and then I decided to say something nondescript, like “good music, huh?” She started talking and I soon found out she had flown somewhere that day to undergo a cancer treatment; she wasn’t sure if the treatment would help, but from listening I understood she was lonely and scared. I listened a bit more, told her how brave she was and that I wished her well, and went on to my plane. It wasn’t much, and my initial thought about her blocking my view wasn’t exactly kind, but I left her feeling better than before she sat down; I had left a legacy.
I ask you to consider what it would be like this week to leave your legacy after every encounter, including the rough ones. It’s easy to be kind and empowering when things are going our way, but not as much so when someone is rude, interrupts us during a meeting or challenges us when we know we’re right.
Our beliefs about our purpose shape how we act
Our beliefs about our purpose and identity shape how we act and what we do. And qualities that enable you to leave an ongoing positive legacy are what companies are looking for today. More than just enhancing the bottom line companies want employees who are kind, generous, flexible, and believe in giving back. None of us need to wait to be remembered, let’s start leaving our legacy now.
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