Legacy Is Not Leadership

The word legacy is often used to describe the centerpiece of leadership, especially as leaders in every venue near the end of their service. Contrary to the assumptions that linger behind that language, legacy is not the centerpiece of leadership. Really? Why?

Here are my reasons:

Leaders who really work at leading don't need to worry about their legacy. They know that faithfully discharging the responsibility that they have been given will speak for itself.

Leaders know it isn't all about them. True leaders look up and beyond. The leader's role isn't about burnishing their resumes and it isn't about fulfilling lifelong goals. Leaders look to the mission, purpose, and history of the organizations that they lead; and they know that those demands are a trust, to be discharged with care and focused attention.

Leaders know that preoccupation with legacy is, by definition, self-absorbed. Given the larger demands of the role that they play, leaders know that the continuity, strength, and vitality of an organization can't possibly be about a series of leaders who promote their own image. They know it's about the humble devotion to something larger than themselves.

Leaders know that legacy will keep leaders from doing what needs to be done. Leaders know that the person who worries about the history books and the press will always make decisions that are shaped by fear.

Leaders do the right thing and let history think what it will. The future isn't as important as the past to true leaders.

Variables, contingencies, and consequences are things that every leader takes into account. But the global notion of history's judgment is not something that captures the attention of leaders. What drives them is the effort to learn from the past and apply the knowledge and wisdom that they acquire.

Leaders know that they are mortal, that the ranks of true leaders are long and self-sacrificing. It's a harsh truth, but it's liberating as well. True leaders let go of the fearful questions about legacy and they make virtue their friend in the face of near certain anonymity. It is better to be remembered by God, not by other human beings who are, themselves, mortal.


6/8/2014 4:00:00 AM
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  • Frederick Schmidt
    About Frederick Schmidt
    Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/
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