Take a moment to fast forward -- to just beyond the end of your life.
Even though you have passed away, let’s imagine you get to witness a very special happening: your own memorial service. But this service is different in a couple of ways (aside from the most obvious – that you’re able to witness it): For one, all of your loved ones and meaningful connections are there, even those who pre-deceased you – family members including parents and grandparents; friends from childhood through old age; coworkers and those above and below you from all your professional endeavors; mentors and mentees; classmates, neighbors, teammates, military brothers and sisters, fellow congregants, local merchants – in short, anyone whose life was touched by yours.
Summoned to Tell The Whole Truth
And this service is unlike most in another way: Everyone there has been summoned to tell their absolute truth about you. That’s not to say that people at non-imaginary funerals don’t tell the truth . . . but let’s face it: Some of them don’t. They tend to gloss over the not-so-good stuff. And people who might not have glowing things to say about the deceased are often not in attendance.
In the case of this special service that you get to witness, even those who were not so fond of you will be in attendance and invited to speak. Everyone is gathered there to express, with complete frankness, what impact your life had on theirs; what happened to them because of you.
As the attendees reflect, one by one, it becomes clear to you that, despite the fact you are no longer physically present, you endure in their lives in a quite tangible way.
This is your legacy.
Legacy is the trace you leave. Every life leaves a trace, a trace that may exist for generations. Your legacy is the sum total of the impact your life made on the lives of others – and, in many ways, the trace that their life makes on others.
To best comprehend your impact, you listen very carefully to what each person at your funeral says about you. (After all, you’re dead, so it’s not as if you have something else to do.)
You listen as your mother and father describe what happened to each of them because of you. What was the net effect of your life on theirs?
Next to speak is your partner, spouse or significant other. What was your impact on and contribution to that relationship? Did he or she feel truly loved and valued? Did he or she get your best energy when you came home at the end of the day, and your full attention when you were together?
If you have children, what is each son or daughter saying as they describe how your influence exists in them, for better or worse? What are they saying about how your life impacted who they are now and what they have become? Are they expressing the belief they are better human beings because of you? What part of your legacy’s impact on them are you not proud of? Makes you wince? Makes you sad? Makes you smile or tear up with joy or burst with pride?
Next up: your friends. What do they begin with? Were you always there for them? Did you show compassion for them, and step up and lend a hand when life turned against them? Did you do that all the time or only some of the time? Did you do it only when it was convenient for you or always when it mattered to them? Were you loyal? As they talk, what are the traits that they share that seem to repeat, from one friend to the next to the next? Are the memories they share ones you would have guessed?
Last to speak are all those associated with your life at work. It's a big lineup. Bosses, clients, direct reports, co-workers, assistants, support staff, etc. Even valets, janitors and security will be asked to remember. Each one will describe your impact on them individually, how you treated them in good times and bad, even when you were stressed, tired or unhappy. Listen as they speak about your respectfulness, your kindness, your generosity. What does each have to say about your integrity, your honesty, your trustworthiness? How often do they comment on your humility, your moral courage, your empathy?
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that as all these people describe your legacy, not a single one, from any part of your life, spends significant time referencing your intelligence, titles, competence, wealth, power, achievements, academic credentials or celebrity.
From all they say, it’s clear that what mattered most was simply your treatment of them, and your treatment of those who mattered to them. For each person whose life you touched, your legacy was not about your money but your kindness; not about your prominence or even fame but your integrity; not about your intelligence but your caring and respect.
That simple, undeniable, profound truth is the purpose of this book. Leading With Character establishes the true meaning of legacy, connecting it directly to your ethical and moral character. Ethics typically refers to a set or code of guidelines that define accepted practices and behavior for a certain group. Morality refers to the judgment as to whether an action is right or wrong. The two words will be used interchangeably throughout the book. Leading with Character provides a practical, daily pathway for you to build character – and, just as important in our complicated and harsh world, it provides protection against regular and formidable onslaughts.
After reflecting on all the feedback you may have received from individuals in every dimension of your life, how do you rate yourself on your character/legacy scorecard? This book was written to help current and future leaders excel on this scorecard, the scale of measurement that matters most in life.
Adversity Provides Opportunities to Strengthen Character and Deepen Connection
Based on the decades that Dr. Jim Loehr has spent studying character and legacy, and nearly 30 years coaching and training global leaders at the institute, here are some truths we have learned:
The morality system shared by leaders – virtually all leaders – is deeply flawed, placing their legacy at serious risk.
Most leaders have very little idea just how much the moral grounding of their judgments and decision-making is often contaminated, hijacked or corrupted (often all three).
The sum total of the countless moral decisions a leader makes every day – trying to do and say the right thing – defines his or her legacy and that of the company or organization that he or she represents.
A leader’s ability to make sound moral and ethical judgments and follow through on them, time and again, forms his or her character. Corporate governance should (but often does not) value this ability at the highest level.
Character is not static but a muscle that can – and should – be continually strengthened and reinforced. Leaders who recognize this dynamic make the investment of time and energy, thereby creating the path to a meaningful legacy, one that transcends their careers and lives.
Follow us and connect with others who are committed to strengthening their own character and leading others with integrity, kindness, resilience, and humility.