The older I get, the more I think about what I am leaving behind. When I was younger, leaving a legacy was the furthest thing from my mind. But now I begin to wonder if the things that I have done in life matter. I wonder if the generations that come after me will have knowledge that I existed at all. As leaders we ask, or should ask, the same question. What is it that I am leaving behind? What is my legacy? The answers may vary from leader to leader, but there is one answer that should trump all of the others.
What is a leader’s legacy? Some may say that the monuments that a leader spends a lifetime building are their legacy. Church buildings, sermons preached, books written, speeches given, philanthropy, legislation passed, organizational growth, businesses built. All of these things could fill out the list of leadership accomplishments that we may leave behind. All of these things are temporal in nature and, in one way or another, will pass away. Buildings decay, books rot or go out of print, legislation is rewritten, business fail; all of these things can and do have a functional shelf life measured in decades or centuries. If this is true then a leader needs to look to something else to build a legacy that lasts. A leader’s lasting legacy is in the leaders that they build and leave behind.
The true mark of a good, lasting, and effective servant leader is that she or he has grown others to lead. Without giving away the gift of leadership by developing other leaders, we cannot ensure that the message we’ve given our lives to profess will continue. Jesus can serve as a classic example for us. He gave his life away in the service of others. But he also ensured that he spent time entrusting the message to men who would carry it on long after he returned to heaven. His legacy was entrusted to, and carried on by, the leaders he helped to develop. This is not meant to diminish the theological significance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. It simply highlights the true legacy of a leader using the ministry of Jesus as an example.
The whole while we are leading, whether in church, business, or family, what is on our mind? We are shortsighted if we are only thinking about leaving money, land, houses, life insurance proceeds, or other temporal things behind. Parents’ true legacy is their children. The women and men that our children become speak far more to the world we leave behind than anything else we may have done. In like manner, the true legacy of a leader are the leaders they’ve groomed. The men and women who have learned from you, served with you, have grown to have God’s heart because of you…these persons will speak volumes to the world about the kind of leader that you were.
Spend your time like Jesus did
If this is true then what should the leader who desires to leave a legacy spend their time doing? Jesus again serves as a model. We may focus on the miracles, the teaching, the gospel proclamation…but what do all of these things have in common? They all involved people. What else? He was always spending time with, teaching, developing the men who were with him. He understood that when he was gone the power of his Father’s message would be entrusted to these men. To him it was important that these men be prepared to carry the message. Leaders need to spend time developing those who are around them. Leaders need to spend time developing those who will carry on the mission. Whether it is a business mission, church mission, or family mission doesn’t matter. The important thing to know is that the mission will become the responsibility of someone else once you are gone. What kind of legacy are you preparing to leave as a leader? Who are you spending time with? What are they seeing of you? What are you pouring into them?