Leaders: What is your legacy?

Leaders: What is your legacy?

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 11, 2019

One of the most important things we can leave to the current and next generation is our
legacy. In September 2015, I wrote an article on this subject. This is an update of that

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,
moral compass or set of principles on how to lead one’s life that can inspire others.

As the author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success,” a book
scheduled to be published later this month, I leave my legacy to the next generation of
leaders, teaching how their business can become the preferred provider in their
marketplace so anyone that needs their products or services buys preferentially from
them versus their competitors. “Be Different!” also teaches anyone rising through their
career how to be different than their peers, so they win that next promotion or job at
another company.

“Be Different!” emphasizes the importance of leaders setting the right tone at the top,
nurturing the right organizational culture and understanding the importance of ethics,
integrity and meeting commitments. These are universal values we all want to pass on
to our children. 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 level of ethics and integrity.
Not to do so exposes individuals as well as companies to potential reputational risk
and liability.

When I served as CEO of PQ Corporation, one of my board members, Alan Barton,
then executive vice president of Rohm and Haas, once asked me what my legacy is –
what I want to leave the company, its shareholders and its employees after I am gone. I
told him I had not thought about it. He asked that I do so and get back to him when I
knew what it is.

After a few weeks of thought, I called Barton and told him that 10 years from now, I
wanted the company’s shareholders and employees to say that the leadership team a
decade ago built a strong corporate culture, value system and operational platform
from which the company could grow, serving its customers with products and services
that made a difference in the quality of people’s lives. Having that conversation
catalyzed my focus on a goal in addition to that of increasing shareholder value.
Within all types of organizations, the legacy of the leader increases the sustainability
of that organization, because it rallies everyone towards a common vision of the future
and guides decisions toward achieving that vision.

Given the myriad of things that need to be accomplished in our companies and
organizations, in our communities, in our schools and in the broader society, why
aren’t more business and governmental leaders thinking about their legacies? Why are
so many leaders focused on the short term? Why are some leaders focused on what
benefits them personally and not the institutions they serve?

More of our governmental leaders need to think about the legacy they want to leave
future generations. Perhaps some political leaders feel that the concept of “legacy,” a
long-term vision of the future, will not appeal to the voters and won’t get them
reelected. Perhaps they are mistaken.

The status quo may be just fine for many people, including key decision makers.
Constituencies have different objectives. Some might feel that an improvement in one
area disadvantages them or their group, and therefore they will not implement change.
In my current role as an author, trustee/director on the boards of three educational
institutions and as a mentor to a number of college students and recent grads, my
legacy is clear – to help people reach their full potential, to make a difference in other
people’s lives.

Leaders, think about the legacy you want to leave the organization or institution you
lead. What do you want to be remembered by? There is no higher calling in life than
leaving a meaningful legacy.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate
governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering
and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced
Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.