Leaving a Legacy: Why is it Necessary?

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

December 30, 2019

Leaving a legacy implies the passing down of organized traditions or practices from one generation to another. It could be in the form of collaborations, perhaps the legacy of a multinational corporation or even a community legacy. Experiences and learnings are documented for successors to follow and hopefully grow the organization, business or institution beyond what the previous generation had accomplished. In essence, the succeeding generation must ideally strengthen the tenets further, cement the human capital base and ensure wider impact. 

Often, the ones leaving a legacy are doing so without expecting any corresponding returns; they are selfless givers. In this particular context, it must be explored what typically constitutes ‘leaving a legacy’ and the attributes that have successfully immortalized certain stalwarts.

What Does Leaving a Legacy Entail?

Typically, a lasting legacy entails ‘giving back.’ It is a higher ideal which goes beyond capitalistic or material pursuits alone; rather it rests on pillars of empowering and uplifting. Much as the last few decades have been marked by growing affluence, a large majority of the global population is still economically strained and is unable to access basic amenities such as healthcare and education. Governments cannot be discredited for their efforts; there have been marked improvements but significantly more collaborative efforts are needed.

Bill and Melinda Gates

One such initiative is Giving Pledge. Several of the world’s richest individuals are allocating the bulk of their wealth towards giving back. Currently, there are as many as 204 individuals from 23 different countries, committed to the initiative. The focus is on several key areas ranging from women’s empowerment to disaster relief and from education to environmental sustainability. In doing so, the movement seeks to inspire more individuals to emulate their example, irrespective of their income levels. Such initiatives are a great example of leaving a great legacy.

Effectively Leaving a Legacy

In terms of bequeathing an organizational legacy, there is perhaps no example more fitting than that of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. He co-founded a fledgling company manufacturing computers, which was followed by an unceremonious exit. His journey then culminated in a re-entry that saw the launch of one of the most iconic communication devices, namely, the iPhone. A key reason why Apple continues to function effectively can be attributed to the management principles that Jobs carefully formulated. The organization has an ‘Apple University’ of sorts – one that grooms higher and mid-level management personnel in Apple’s core values and is empowering the organization’s current leaders in carrying the torch into the future.

In this context, a Center for Creative Leadership research suggests that most managerial level staff could have reaped the benefits of enrolling in some form of leadership development experience. In fact, it was highlighted that an overwhelming 97 percent of those surveyed felt leadership grooming should ideally begin for an individual when they are as young as 21 years of age. Unfortunately, the majority of the workforce does not prioritize on leadership development training and they are usually only part of such a program when they have climbed the corporate ladder and find themselves in senior positions.

A community called the Gorkhas, who hail from Nepal and eastern India, have acquired wide repute as a loyal and sincere people. They have been honored for acts of great courage and valor, so much so that even the Royal British Army still maintains a Gorkha Regiment. Theirs is an example of a martial legacy.

What Leaders Can Do

Innovation and technology are rapidly ushering in disruption, and in most cases, technology has offered lasting solutions. However, a large share of global problems is more complex, one’s that need collaboration among governments, the corporates, academics and non-profit organizations. Leaders who have chosen to leave lasting legacies can act as facilitators and ensure allocation of efforts towards those spheres where funding is perhaps low or ones that have been overlooked for myriad reasons. These leaders can also usher in high impact giving and engage in sharing their insights and philanthropic pursuits – effectively leaving a legacy for future generations to follow. One business stalwart summed it thus: ‘We shall have better business when everyone realizes that while it pays to invest money in their industries and develop natural resources, it pays still higher dividends to improve mankind and develop human resources.’