Today’s post is the featured article from the July 2013 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription

john-newIt seems inevitable, in the circles of leadership, that at some point the discussion of legacy rolls-around. Sometimes, for the wrong reason. For some, the focus on legacy is simply a chance for a leader to ponder how their ego can live-on after they are gone. It is about being remembered. After all … who wants to be forgotten?

But most every leader will be … forgotten!

I’m reminded of a humbling analogy that illustrates how long you will be remembered. So it goes … simply put your finger in a glass of water and then remove your finger. See how long it takes the hole, where your finger was, to fill.

When it comes to a leader’s legacy, the very short yet potent opening sentence to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life is most applicable … It’s not about you!

I would suggest that legacy and stewardship go hand-in-hand. In the developmental years of my career, I had the value of stewardship drilled into me … leaving something behind better than when you received it. The key here is in understanding that you have “received” it in the first place. No matter the condition you received it … it started as a gift. For some, it was a position offered, an opportunity opened, a relationship discovered or simply the pure “luck” of being at the right place at precisely the right time.

It is all a gift!

And that gift is designed to be passed-on … as a better gift to the next. It is not about being remembered … it is about being passed along. And so it goes from one to another. The legacy is in the gift … not the giver.

Yet, if I say the gift is the legacy, this might lead you to believe that a leader’s legacy is held in “what” they leave behind. Not so much. Every “what” you leave behind will also fade away. The hole in the water is filled in a fraction of a moment!

Legacy is about “who” you leave behind.

Recently, in speaking to a group of business owners, I said it out-loud for the first time: As a leader, if you are working more on getting better at “what” you do than on developing “who” you are … a problem, not a legacy, awaits you.

The seeds of your legacy are deeply imbedded into the “who” that is within you. Nothing more and nothing less. I have heard it said that the true measure of a leader’s leadership is determined after they are gone. So is their legacy.

The “results” of what you do may very well determine how much you leave behind. Yet these “results” have little to do with your legacy. Your legacy is far more determined by the “who” you developed within you … and then by who you have developed because of it.

In a quick reference to the dictionary, I saw what is likely a fairly recent addition to the definition of legacy: of or pertaining to old or outdated computer hardware, software, or data that, while still functional, does not work well with up-to-date systems. I’m sure you have heard this context of legacy before … as in, a legacy system. That definition ought to humble any leader who hopes to leave a legacy!

It is certain that the context of the future will be different for the leader succeeding you. The “what” you pass-on is like the finger in the water … quickly not relevant. Yet we continue to develop leaders by encouraging them to improve their leadership skills.

I’m not buying it.

Nor are many future leaders … or followers! Let’s take the finger-in-the-glass analogy one step further. Let’s assume that digging deeply into “who” you are is like, first, putting your finger into a bottle of dye before you ever put your finger in the glass of clear water. Then, leave your finger in the water for a bit. Now, pull your finger out. The hole is not relevant. Of course it fills-up quickly … as it should. And, yes, you are gone. But “who” you are remains. And therein lies your legacy.

Maybe that is why we hear the sound of the wise old owl as who … and not what. Just couldn’t resist!

Nor can future leaders or followers resist “who” you leave behind. As a leader, you will leave a legacy. Who you have become is at the core of what you leave behind. Be certain, what’s inside the gift you leave … has been opened long before you have passed it on. It should be no surprise.

You see, legacy is meant to have legs. The question becomes … after you’re gone, will they run with it?