The Power of Legacy

Each day, we craft how we will be seen and when we die, how we will be remembered by others.

As business leaders, managers and owners, our days often revolve around jumping from one fire to another. In the hailstorm of client issues, vendor problems or employee challenges, our day-to-day time often gets wrapped up in immediate, urgent business issues. 

The fact is, we impact those around us with our words and actions. Each day, in large or small ways, we are building our legacy. Each day, we craft how we will be seen and when we die, how we will be remembered by others. 

There are three key groups of people that we create a legacy with—that we impact—through our actions in day-to-day life and within the workplace: 

Employees and Key Stakeholders. Many businesses have entry-level employees, earning less than $30,000 per year. These foundational employees are the backbone of an organization, working on an assembly line, preparing or serving food at restaurants, or handling customer service calls like the employees at Apple Tree Answers, an outsourced call center that was recently sold by founder John Ratliff to Stericycle. Prior to selling the company, Mr. Ratliff and his wife were trying to develop a way to improve the employee experience of their front-line staff members. To accomplish that objective, they created the Dream On program, modeled after the Make-A-Wish charities. The employees submit dreams they would like to have granted by the company. Sometimes, co-workers submit dreams on behalf of their fellow workers. The impact of the program has been profound, changing the lives of hundreds of Apple Tree Answers employees. The Dream On program helps to get owners of the company in touch with their employees. “We exist to serve the people that are here to help us,” says former CEO John Ratliff.

Community. Sam Cupp was a successful entrepreneur, owning 25 companies, having more than 2,000 employees and more than $300 million in annual revenue. All those accomplishments weren’t enough for Mr. Cupp: He wanted to impact the community of Warren, Michigan, where he grew up. He realized how important motivation and education were and was concerned that local schools were not able to help all the students within their systems. Rather than looking for someone else to fix the problem, in 1994, he created Winning Futures—a comprehensive strategic planning and mentoring program designed to assist students in goal setting, achievement and five-year planning. Today, Winning Futures has impacted more than 30,000 students across the country and awarded more than $1.7 million in scholarships to local teens.

Complete Strangers. A highly accomplished vice president I know was on vacation in Chicago shopping at the high-end retail stores on the Miracle Mile. She had a successful sales year and decided to reward herself with an expensive Coach purse. It was a windy, bitter cold morning, and she was hustling to get out off the street and into the stores. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a woman and her two young children huddled together. She reached into her wallet and gave the woman $20 and moved on with her shopping. 

As she continued to shop, the woman and her children kept popping into her thoughts. She noticed a police officer near the corner where the woman and her children were and asked him if he knew them. He explained that the woman had lost her job and her home and that the homeless shelters were currently at full occupancy. Upon hearing this story, the woman reached into her pocket and gave the police officer the money she had saved for her Coach purse and told him to use the money for a hotel and food for the family. The officer agreed to do that and took her phone number to keep in touch.  

Now the homeless woman has an apartment for her family, a full-time job with room for advancement and her children are back in school. On a recent business trip to Chicago, the vice president was invited by the woman and her children to spend the day together. During that visit, the youngest child shared an essay that she wrote about her hero, who was the vice president, who helped get her family off the streets.

It’s all within your power, your words are your power, your actions are your power.