Legacy: to make a lasting contribution in the world

How do you define success? For you, is it good enough to build a profitable business and achieve life goals like a good house, good schools for your kids, and a comfortable retirement? It is true that these are perfectly normal and healthy marks of success for many people, but there is a higher standard for servant leaders. The measure of successful servant leadership has to consider our service and leadership, both of which necessarily involve people outside of ourselves. If we are the only ones benefited by our success, then we have failed in both service and leadership because we have served no one but ourselves and, having reached the end, found that no one is truly following us. This is why, perhaps more than any other measurement, the measure of successful servant leadership is legacy. Legacy has an important distinction from most other servant leadership values in that the other values express the character we have in doing what we do, but legacy expresses why we do what we do. Legacy lifts us out of any focus on ourselves and sets our eyes on something bigger, something that impacts those around us in a meaningful way, and something that outlives us. John Adams once wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail, “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”[i] This vision for legacy was so powerful that it compelled one of America’s chief founding fathers to sacrifice whatever it took to produce something so great that not only his children and grandchildren, but hundreds of millions of people throughout the world have now reaped the benefit of it. That is how powerful legacy can be, but it is actually very simple in practice. When I think of legacy, I think of my childhood coach, Carol Gustofson (we called him Gus). This man invested his whole life in helping kids in north Minneapolis, Minnesota, develop character and hope as he coached them and taught them to swim. When I was about eight years old, he identified me as a strong swimmer and encouraged my parents to put me on the swim team. Through his encouragement and belief in me, I excelled in swimming. But, that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to develop character and leadership in me. There were times that I told my dad that he was picking on me, but I can see in hindsight that he saw something in me that I would not have seen in myself and he both taught it into me and encouraged it out of me. His legacy lives on in me today as I do my best to pay that legacy forward.  

Worldwide Copyright TJ Associates, LLC Diane Kucala, June 2013


[i] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Adams