“The epitome of power.” I recently read an article in Harvard Business Review that proclaimed this was why we should care about building a legacy. It gave me pause. The word “power” suggests that legacies are about leverage and status, reserved for company founders and CEOs. I know that is not the case.
When I think of a legacy, I think of my grandfather. He lived 100 years and had a wildly successful life. He was a business and civic leader. He even taught political science classes at his retirement home, right up until he turned 99.
But his most enduring legacy was investing in the education of his grandchildren. He chose to fund our future. And it set a model for our family — there is nothing more important to pass on than learning.
That is what a legacy looks like — investing in what matter most to you. And trusting that your good work will positively impact people for generations.
This might not be a popular stance in today’s “me, me, me” world. Because let’s face it — right now we seem to be measuring people by accumulated wealth and the strength of their “personal brand.” But popularity fades and businesses change. The only thing that will endure is how your actions impact others and if those individuals carry that value forward.
Back to that article I mentioned. Have you thought about your legacy? I know you have if you have thought about the future in any meaningful way. And by meaningful, I am not referring to deep thoughts about what will go into your will and who will get what. So, consider my argument that a legacy is more about what you do for others and then what they do for others again when they think of you.
You do not have to build a company or be a CEO to leave the kind of people-focused legacy I am talking about. No matter your role, people will be changed by how well or how poorly you treated them. By how much you supported them or let them down.
And here’s the thing, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to build companies and be a CEO. Today, I am the co-founder and CEO at Aha! — before that, I was the founder or early employee of multiple cloud-based software companies. That Harvard Business Review article was probably written for people like me. Yes, obviously the long-term viability of our company is important to me as is my ability to provide for those I care about. But that will not be my greatest legacy.
I want my legacy to be about continuing my grandfather’s core values — helping others learn and grow. How I will achieve that, I am not sure. But that is the type of legacy thinking I grapple with.
I am also not waiting to start practicing — I am enthusiastic about helping our team members at Aha! reach their goals. We work hard to create an environment where this is possible. Part of this has been reframing what leadership looks like. Our team leaders are not interested in amassing power. They are peer mentors, invested in providing a framework for success and helping their teams achieve more than they thought was possible.
Building a learning organization is important work for me. And I understand the weight of it because I was fortunate enough to have people invest in me. Not just my grandfather — but also teachers, mentors, and colleagues who shared their skills and time. They are the ones who matter. My legacy is their legacy too.
That is why I challenge the notion that legacies are about power. They are not — they are about people. And no matter your role, you work with people every day. It is your service to others that will ultimately have the greatest leveraged impact.
That is a legacy. And it is the sort of legacy I think we should all strive to leave behind.
Do you think about your legacy?