Leaving a lasting legacy

Tim Goshert

Leave a legacy. You hear that phrase in politics. You are hearing it more and more in business. Many are concerned about it in their personal life. I believe more people today are concerned about this issue as they age and consider their future before entering into the retirement phase of their life.

What is a legacy? It is what you will be known for in the future and with future generations.

In "A Leader's Legacy", a book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner (published by Jossey-Bass and available at www.amazon.com), the topic of leaving a legacy is explored. They make this statement: "By asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if we matter. By living each day as if we matter, we offer up our own unique legacy. By offering up our own unique legacy, we make the world we inhabit a better place than we found it."

I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to "leave a legacy".

Let's explore this topic and, first, give an example of a wrong way.

I believe it is obvious to people when others make decisions and act out their desire to leave a legacy as opposed to doing the right thing for the organization. It is a self-centered act to get personal gain in some manner. I have seen this in action in a few organizations in which I have been involved. These decisions are made based on how or what the organization will do and accomplish while they are on the board of directors or on the leadership team. Efforts are made years in advance to start projects that will be finalized when they are in the ultimate leadership position. They want to be known for these accomplishments. These actions are not pure and may be the wrong actions or directions for the organization they are leading.

The former executives of Enron are a great example of doing it the wrong way. Their decisions to build a large, successful energy company were based on fraudulent decisions and actions for personal gain. In the end, the decisions and actions of this company's leaders hurt many people who had faith in them. The fall and bankruptcy of Enron has left a significant scar on many people, corporate companies and America as a whole. Today's business world still is being affected by these actions.

The right way is to allow your legacy to be based on the outcomes of your daily decisions. These decisions should be based on what is right for the organization - not one person, group of people or you. It is a selfless act to decide to make decisions in this way. Leaders leave legacies by serving people, helping others and teaching others. People will remember you for what you have done for them, not what you have done for yourself.

A "right way" example from history is Benjamin Franklin. In his time and still today, Ben Franklin's worldwide legacy has centered on his accomplishments to help mankind. If you are consistent readers of my articles, you know that I have previously written about Ben (find "Building allies and fostering success" from the September/October 2007 issue at www.reliableplant.com).

I have high regard for Ben's accomplishments completed nearly 200 years ago. He is best known for his kite-and-key experiment in lightning. He proved that lightning was electricity and, thus, could be channeled in some manner. He invented the lightning rod to prevent building fires from lightning strikes. He also invented, among other things, bifocals to aid in reading at an older age, swim fins to aid in swimming, the Franklin stove to efficiently warm homes and the catheter for the medical field. He started the first volunteer fire company, the first fire insurance company and the first public library. His legacy of inventions, writings and ideas are with all of us today.

So, the challenge to you as a leader in your organization, community, business and life is to help and teach others to be successful. Creating value for others, not for you, is the key to a lasting positive legacy. These are the important things for which people and organizations will remember you. That will be your legacy.

Tim Goshert is the worldwide reliability and maintenance manager for Cargill, one of the world's largest food and agricultural processing companies (more than 1,000 facilities worldwide). He is responsible for the company's global reliability and maintenance initiatives and is chairman of the company's Worldwide Reliability and Maintenance Steering Committee. Tim is an active member of the Society of Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) and serves on its board of directors. Contact him at tgoshert@hotmail.com or Timothy_Goshert@cargill.com.

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