Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal October 1, 2023.
On Sept. 19, Temple University lost a pivotal leader at an important time in the institution’s history. JoAnne A. Epps was serving as interim president as the University searched for its new leader when she collapsed at a memorial service for a colleague.
Upon learning of the death of Epps, Temple Board Chair Mitchell L. Morgan said, “I am devastated by this loss. She was our light at the end of the tunnel. Temple University will survive it. I’m not sure I will emotionally survive it.”
President of the Temple Association of University Professionals Jeffrey Doshna said, “We’re all just kind of shocked by this horrible news. A lot of us came to know her as a colleague and friend.”
Ken Kaiser, Temple’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, said, “JoAnne was full of life, somebody who was super compassionate and truly cared about other people and had a wonderful way of pulling them all together and getting people excited about even a daunting task, making things fun.”
As the University’s former provost, Epps was chosen as interim president in April for her leadership qualities after the resignation of Temple’s previous president, Jason Wingard, who served the university for just under three years during a turbulent time. The Temple board removed the “interim” designation so that Epps could be honored as one of the presidents of the university, an honor well deserved.
Accolades also poured in from all quarters outside of the Temple community. As I read them, what struck me was how Epps was praised for her ability to connect with people from all walks of life. She was a highly respected and accomplished leader.
Marcel Schwantes, an Inc. Magazine contributing editor and founder of Leadership from the Core, writes, “One question every leader should be asking is, ‘How will I be remembered by my peers, colleagues, and employees?’” I would expand that to include all those whose lives we’ve touched. How do you want to be remembered by them? What do you want your legacy to be?
One of the most important things we can leave to the current and next generation is our legacy. A legacy can be a set of principles you leave behind that improves the future lives of individuals or institutions once you are gone. A legacy can also be a value system, a moral compass pointing towards how to lead one’s life that can inspire others.
As leaders, how we conduct business is watched intently by our employees. Many will mirror and adopt our code of conduct. I am sure all of us would want our employees to conduct business with the highest levels of ethics and integrity. Not to do so creates a toxic organizational culture and exposes individuals as well as companies to potential reputational risk and liability.
Given the myriad of things that need to be accomplished in our companies, universities and schools, and in the broader society, why aren’t more business and governmental leaders thinking about their legacies? Why are so many business and governmental leaders focused on what benefits them personally and not the institutions they serve?
In my current role as a columnist; author; trustee/director on the boards of Drexel University, AIM Academy and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children; and as a mentor to college students and recent grads, my legacy is clear—to help people become better leaders, reach their full potential and to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Leaders, think about what was said to honor and celebrate the life of JoAnne Epps. Think about what was said about others who have passed. People speak about the type of person they were. As a leader, think about the legacy you want to leave the organization you lead. What do you want to be remembered by? There is no higher calling in life than leaving behind a meaningful legacy.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com.