Legacy is not something most leaders think about, unless they are nearing retirement or death. Perhaps that is because legacy is typically associated with the money or property one bequeaths to heirs. I would like to challenge this notion by suggesting that legacy also includes the intangibles a leader models during his or her lifetime – principles, values, behaviors – and yes, even labor.
Labor is something I learned about at an early age. My parents instilled the value of working hard and doing a good job while I was still very young. Like many other kids, I learned to make my own bed, clean up my toys, wash and dry dishes, and weed the garden. These chores were viewed as honorable labor and I was encouraged to do them well.
It was a source of pride for dad to have a son who could mow the grass without making “skippers” (his lingo for missing a spot). He taught me to alternate the direction with each mowing and how to blow the grass away from sidewalks and driveways. I still think of him every time I’m working on my lawn. Yes, I still mow in alternate directions.
Labor included caring for animals, like the rabbits and goat my siblings and I raised as children. When my family moved from town to a farm the definition of labor changed dramatically. Now there were calves to feed, cows to milk, and stalls to clean. We spent summers stacking hundreds of hay bales. The heat and humidity didn’t prevent us from picking stones on freshly tilled ground or cutting thistles in our pasture fields.
Dirt under my fingernails, callouses on my hands, and a tan that would be the envy of any beachgoer, was evidence that I knew how to work hard. Many of my schoolmates filled their summers with training for sports or traveling. Some of them did learn the discipline of practice but my legacy will always be just a bit different.
As our nation celebrates Labor Day weekend, mostly with football, family, and picnics, I will be reflecting on some of the leadership lessons learned from my childhood.
- No job is too small or insignificant.
- There is a correct way to do things and we shouldn’t take shortcuts.
- Always do your best, even when no one is watching.
- Take pride in your work.
- Don’t make excuses.
- Apologize for your mistakes.
Hard labor as a legacy isn’t about mistreating others, or even yourself. Power and ego should never control a workplace or a family environment. Instead, consider how your leadership is conveying a lesson about the value of working hard, regardless of the outcome.
Let’s make labor a legacy worth passing on to every future generation.
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com