I had lunch at work on Monday with an esteemed guest. It was great fun, thought provoking and invigorating. Most things that are both enjoyable and thought provoking tend to be invigorating. My lunch guest was one of the original scientists and leaders from our research location in the UK. He retired a few years ago – before I started – and although I have heard a great deal about him, what he had done, and how he had done…I had never met him before.
As lunch time approached, I wondered what we would talk about; what topics he would raise; what I would learn…about him, about us, about me. You never know in these situations…but in the end I learned so much, so quickly and so valuable.
His very first question was the ‘give-away’…followed by his second and third. They were all the same. He asked me about people by name. How were they doing? What were they doing? What did I think about how they were growing and performing? He didn’t once ask about business, or the impending Big Deal, or even partners we work with. He asked me about people by name – people he had recruited, appointed, or supervised.
Some time ago, on the day I was asked to take on my first significant leadership role, my new boss (who had just appointed me) gave me some great advice. ‘Think about your legacy in this role’ he said. My legacy? I had not even sat down in my new office and my new boss was talking about my legacy. And I had no idea. ‘Your legacy’, he continued, ‘will be your people. The people you recruit, reveal and re-train.’
I am not sure about legacy, but I remembered this advice as we chatted over lunch on Monday. As we talked about individuals my guest had recruited; about colleagues he had given opportunity for significant work experience, and people he had coached and developed. Yes, it was a notable list of names, and yes it was great to talk about them individually. But most of all I was just so impressed that his focus…his interest…his agenda in our conversation was his people. And yes, I felt pleased he was interested in hearing my opinions and assessments.
I found myself thinking again about my Monday lunch several times during the week…more specifically at times when I saw, or met, or heard today’s people. Colleagues who have created or taken significant experiences; individuals who have grown and developed; people who have moved to new roles, or have been recruited into our organisation.
I am still not sure about legacy, but I did recognise my own feelings of pride and pleasure this week – mixed with admiration and delight – whenever I interacted with today’s people. They are so impressive, have so much passion and such commitment. They partner and communicate…engage and innovate. All my feelings are reflective of them. All the growth, performance impact and leadership is theirs. Individually and collectively. I just have the pleasure of working with them.
So what of legacy then? Well I am confident that as individuals we don’t consider ourselves as the ‘legacy’ of our leaders. I certainly don’t. But perhaps that is not the right assessment. I wonder if the key is more about what a leader believes will be their legacy. How would a leader want to be remembered? How do we seek to influence and inspire? What do we value and believe in? What do we care about most?
My Monday lunchtime guest knew. There was no doubt what – and who – he cared about most. And he inspired me.