Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Image by Polly Clapp
My grandmother passed away yesterday. As many families do at the time of loss, my family got together to remember, start the process of grieving, and reflect on the mark my grandmother made on the world. Whether we are intentional or not of making a mark on the world, we invariably do. There are so many wonderful qualities about my grandmother – she was kind, brave, self-determined, strong willed, and always friendly. She never wanted to be a bother to others and she didn’t let adversity slow her down. In fact, the day before she died, she stopped breathing for a little bit. But then she started breathing again, came back to, and went to lunch. That was simply the type of women she was, not be let a moment of death slow her down her keep her from lunch.
When I first started to study leadership formally, that is, in business school, and I was asked to think of a leader who inspired me, Grandma always came to mind. I never knew if it was cliché to think of my grandmother as an influential leader or, worse, sometimes I didn’t really understand why I felt influenced by her. But I did always see her as someone whose behavior I wanted to model. You see, she always had the respect of others because she always respected others. She never demanded trust or respect, but always earned it through integrity and relatedness to humanity.
As much as I want to tell you more about what an amazing women she was, the true point of this blog post is to reflect on our futures and our ends. Many leadership consultants will take clients through an epitaph exercise, in which they project on how they would like to be remembered. As kitschy as this may seem, in moments of loss, you can’t help but be moved by the legacy some people leave behind, how fondly they are remembered. It is years of consistent behavior that build these legacies and most often, they are projected onto many domains, not just work. I raise this domain orientation, because at mid-life where I sit at the moment, I seem to be thinking much more about how I can have an impact at work, but at life’s end, will that really matter? Will I be comfortable hearing people I worked with fondly remembering what I did for the organization at the expense of my kids and grandkids reflecting on how little they knew me, how successful I was at work, how much stress I brought home, and the family sacrifices I made for my career success? No, that doesn’t appeal to me. So, when I think about my leadership and the mark I will make on the world, in which domains is my mark the most important to me? By seeing how my many domains are integrated, it becomes easier for me to see how what I value in my work domain can enrich what I value in my family and community domains.
What do you want your legacy to be? How will your domains remember you?