Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Legacy - granted or sought?
As I've read about (and have begun to observe) the explosion of development and education in the Arabian Gulf, I've begun to think of the question of legacy. While the improvement of educational and other opportunity for citizens of the UAE ("60 Minutes" covered Dubai on October 14,2007), Saudi Arabia (September 14, 2007, Chronicle of Higher Education), and Qatar are certainly good in and of themselves, all three of these countries are portrayed as developing a "legacy" for their people when the 21st century economy shifts from black gold (oil and natural gas) to other industries. So the question becomes, in what ways will this period establish a legacy and who determines it? Is the phenomenon of establishing a legacy granted or can it be sought?
Webster's Collegiate (1993; yes, I know using a dictionary is way old) defines legacy as "a gift by will" or "something transmitted by or received from an ancestor." This definition at least implies that one cannot seek to establish a legacy - it is granted by will to us or is received as a gift from an ancestor. Clearly, what leaders are attempting to do in the Arabian Gulf is to establish opportunities that will benefit the current and future generations of residents in the region. However, the degree to which the opportunities are eventually defined as a legacy depends on how it serves others. My own way of thinking of this is that we cannot seek to establish a legacy in, or through, our own lives; we are only granted a legacy through our service and as a result of our work and vision coming to fruition in ways that transcend us.
The reason this is important related to leadership is that it is fairly obvious that there are those who attempt to establish their own legacies through their acts of leadership. When we see this, how real or how transformative is the work? The work may have an impact but legacy is only granted when these acts transform and when they allow others to contribute as well. In many ways, it is only natural that we might all seek to be remembered for something we've done, something we've contributed to make the world better. My suspicion is that for those who seek the legacy, the moments of recognition are fleeting and hollow. The reward in this case is sought and most of the observers know what motivated the originator - self-aggrandizement. On the other hand, those who do not seek the recognition usually enjoy a longer and deeper appreciation for their work. Those who seek remain empty while those who simply serve are often recognized for their selfless contribution by the generations to follow.
Legacy - granted or sought? is a tough question. It requires self-examination that may not be all that comfortable. By examining, perhaps we can be freed when we let go of the desire to be recognized. The recognition comes of its own accord and lasts for many, many years and, if we are lucky, even generations. The Arabian Gulf is full of potential legacy and it will be fascinating to see how the broader globe embraces this amazing time in its history. In our own personal journeys, what potential legacies are either being granted or sought in this very moment?