I recently attended the funeral of someone I’ve known for more than 30 years.
As long-time relationships sometimes unfold into different roles, we went from being acquaintances to friends, to client-vendor, to vendor-client and back to acquaintances.
Years went by when we only exchanged pleasantries at an annual fundraising event. Other years, we would have in-depth conversations about business, family, community and life.
Regardless of what, where, when and why, I always learned something from the interaction. In fact, I’ve been quoting this person for many years. To me, this person’s legacy of leadership didn’t just happen after passing away.
Many times, leaders think their legacy starts when they retire, or at “the end of the day.” I was one of those people.
Old school thinking says, “What do you want to be known for at the end of the day.” Or, with more finality, “What will they put on your tombstone.”
Quite frankly, who cares! By then, it’s too late.
Leadership is a mindset that gives every human being the right to discover, grow, develop new skills, reinvent, innovate and then share his or her learnings with others. It’s also a continual process of examination and rebirth.
Leadership development is never done. And the legacy that comes from our own leadership development is what plants the seeds of greatness in others.
Sixty years ago, Earl Nightingale started challenging people to think about the messages they were planting for themselves and others. His research found that the creation of great achievements started with the thoughts and messages we planted in our minds. The more positive and powerful the messages were, the greater the outcome and achievement.
In a segment from his famous story, “The Strangest Secret,” Nightingale described how the human mind is much like a farmer’s land.
If a farmer plants two seeds, one of corn and one of nightshade, a deadly poison, and he waters the seeds and takes care of the land, both seeds will grow in abundance. Like our minds, the land doesn’t care what is planted.
The human mind, however, is far more fertile, incredible and mysterious than the land. But it doesn’t care what we plant – success or failure, a worthy goal or chaos; misunderstanding, fear and anxiety; or caring, integrity and cooperation. What we plant will be returned in abundance.
As you plant seeds of greatness for yourself, sustain the effort by planting positive and powerful seeds in the minds of the people with whom you interact.
Chances are, most people in leadership roles don’t think about their legacy on a regular basis. If we consciously practice planting the seeds needed to make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of others, the legacy of leadership will just happen. And the more seeds we sow, the more abundant the outcomes.
Here is a small packet of seeds to help you set your legacy of leadership in motion. Plant them in all of your “gardens” – family, friends, peers and employees.
• Seed No. 1 – Be intimately and solidly connected to your values.
Your values are your identity, they stand for who you are as a person and guide your behaviors and attitudes throughout your life. Help others develop, articulate and practice their values.
The shape of these seeds may vary, but when tended carefully, they grow tall and strong with solid root systems and unshakable branches.
• Seed No. 2 – Be accountable for your actions, or inactions.
When you take personal accountability for something you did, didn’t do or did wrong, the level of trust from those around you will increase. By modeling accountability, others will be more open to accepting their part in a successful outcome or a failed activity.
This seed will take root in a short time and deliver a very consistent crop.
• Seed No. 3 – Be engaged, enthused and inspired.
When you engage the people around you, they will be more inclined to become enthused and inspired. And, when they engage the people around them, those people will also become more enthused and inspired, and so on. …
This seed can be very fragile. Once planted, cover it with burlap so the wind doesn’t blow the seed away, and the birds don’t eat the seeds before they bloom.
• Seed No. 4 – Believe in yourself.
Your confidence (not arrogance), will encourage others to be part of your team and help you build successful outcomes. It takes the “power of one” to put success in motion.
Start the motion. Pitch your stone into the water and watch the ripple effect that follows. The ripples seem to go on forever.
This seed grows into a flower similar to a sunflower. Imagine the flower as a human face beaming with pride.
The planting of seeds is an ongoing process. Periodically, look back and take stock of the fruits of your labor. Most likely you’ll find how much easier and more pleasant life has become.
Look for more packets of seeds to plant in your gardens; and at the end of each day, ask yourself, “What have I done to improve the quality of life for myself and those around me?”
The answer will make you feel like a million bucks!
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