Legacy. n. A tangible or intangible thing handed down; a long lasting effect of an event or process.
We often talk of ‘legacy’ as something we view in hindsight, being the outcome of accumulated past events that create a present reality. Rarely do we ask ourselves at the beginning or through that journey what is the end result we desire.
There is the well-worn scenario painted by educators through the question ‘if you were an observer at your own funeral what would you like your eulogy to say of you?’ I suppose it does draw into a scarily stark reality that in thinking about your legacy, the end of your days might not be the time to be asking that question.
I recently met with a family Director of one of Australia’s largest food distributors, PFD Food Services, Sharon Landy. She spoke to me with both pride and acceptance of ‘that’s just the way it is’ of her father, the owner and past CEO of PFD, Richard Smith. Richard has supported organisations like The Reach Foundation for over twenty years. While he also supports other not-for-profits and sports clubs, it is the impact PFD have had with Reach that exemplifies legacy.
Richard didn’t overtly brag about his support of this teenager support organisation, but quietly got on with committing PFD to get behind them for the long term. The impact of the quiet conscious leadership that I detected from my conversation with Sharon was that this culture of responsibility beyond your own backyard, has had generational ingrained impact with his family, his colleagues and is now ‘just the way it is’ at PFD. The determination that part of the PFD purpose was to invest in the world around it was considered as important and probably impactful on its bottom line over the long term as profit. It demonstrates again that profit still can be gained, but the impact of purpose is far greater.
Richard’s commitment and foresight in creating a Triple Bottom line philosophy (People, Planet & Profit) for his company by enlivening his values was then not only counter to the narrow ‘profit above all else’ corporate culture, it was visionary. It is leaders like this that have a conscious awareness of the role of their organisations in their communities. While I am sure the nature of the man would not espouse this philosophy as a motive, good corporate citizenship, a sense of greater purpose makes good business sense.
The teenagers that PFD supported through Reach’s tremendous mentoring over many years have now grown to be adults. I’m sure many, because of the grit they learned in their troubled lives and support of Reach have gone on to be leaders themselves. PFD’s support is not about short-term gain, but about long-term investment in our communities. Communities that are good for business.
I have never heard a legacy read at a funeral, where the commitment in a person’s life is summed up in what they did for themselves, only ever what they did for others.
I recently read some research about obituary notices. I know who would do research about that, let alone read it! But interestingly of the thousands of obituaries reviewed, the most common phrase used to describe people’s lives was ‘the good they had done for others’.
Legacy is about a conscious life, about understanding the impact we have on others, on our families, our colleagues, our communities and our planet and choosing what that impact could be and not to wait till the game is over. It is about purpose!