One of my all time favorite leadership books is Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership by James Kerr. While the book is about the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, this is a leadership book, not a sports book. If you are not familiar with the All Blacks they are the most successful “sports franchise” in the world with an 80% winning record over the past 13 decades.
One of the All Blacks philosophies Kerr writes about in the book is Be a Good Ancestor. The following paragraph encapsulates this concept:
“Our time is limited. Understanding the fragility of life is the first step in understanding our role and responsibility as a leader. Our greatest responsibility is to honour those who came before us and those who will come after, to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. We are the stewards of our organizations, the caretakers of our lineage. Our actions today will echo beyond our time. They are our legacy.”
Lets break this down.
Our time is limited. Understanding the fragility of life is the first step in understanding our role and responsibility as a leader.
I spent 25 years as a member of the Calgary Police Service starting in 1979 and retiring in 2004. The CPS had been in existence for 112 years before I joined, has continued to function in the 17 years I have been retired and will be in existence long after I have passed.
Unless you are the founder of the organization where you work, it likely existed long before you started there and will continue to exist after you are gone. If you are the Founder of your organization you likely to want it to live long after you have moved on.
In the 3 years before I started with the Calgary Police Service two members were killed in the line of duty, four members more were killed in the line of duty during my 25 years of service and another member of the CPS was killed in the line of duty on December 31, 2020. Those numbers do not reflect the CPS members who died of cancer, heart attack or suicide or were killed in car crashes. They also do not include the countless others who were seriously injured physically and emotionally and had to leave the profession early.
Think of the people you know who died “too early” or who were seemingly healthy until they contracted some major illness, or suffered from a pre-existing heart condition that no one knew about until they had a fatal heart attack.
For all of us our time is limited in our organizations and in life. Make the most of the time you have. Be of service and seek to develop others.
Our greatest responsibility is to honour those who came before us and those who will come after, to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’.
Always remember who and what you represent. You represent those who came before you and overcame many barriers and obstacles to pave the way for you. You represent everyone currently working in your agency and those who will come after you. People will judge your entire organization, and possibly your entire profession, based on a single interaction, good or bad, with one person in your organization.
Your mission is to create a culture where people are committed to the concept, “Leave the jersey in a better place.” This is about leaving everywhere you work in your organization better because you were there. Leave your organization better because you were there. Develop the future leaders in your organization who will continue to lead courageously and take the organization to better and better places.
We are the stewards of our organizations, the caretakers of our lineage.
You need to tell the stories about your organization, what it stands for and what it means to be a part of this tribe of people. You need to create a culture of leading, learning, diversity, inclusion and belonging. You need to figuratively and literally put your arm around people, welcome them and make them feel like they belong, like they matter, like they are part of something bigger than themselves. You need to talk about the core values as well as the mission and vision. You need to inspire people to Dare to Be Great and leave the jersey in a better place. You need to create a culture of Psychological Safety where people feel safe to ask questions and challenge the status quo.
Our actions today will echo beyond our time. They are our legacy.
People will judge you and your organization not by what you claim is important, or by the slogans and posters on the walls. They will judge you by your actions, by how you treat people, by how you lead and how you live. Thinking of a Legacy as something you create every day, instead of something you leave behind when you die can help you to focus on two critical questions:
- What’s Important Now?
- What’s the right thing to do?
As a leader part of your mission is to help people understand what it means to ‘Be A Good Ancestor’ and then support them as they continually strive to ‘Leave the Jersey in a Better Place’.
Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop was created for aspiring leaders and frontline leaders to help you on your leadership journey.