A few days ago, we held a webinar entitled “Sustainability and the HR Leader” with one of our favorite presenters, Alexia Vernon. Alexia’s a speaker, coach, mentor, author of 90 Days, 90 ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance, and her been featured in numerous major media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and NBC. Needless to say, she knows what she’s doing.
Alexia’s presentation was meant to teach our audience some new ways to attack the methods of inspiration in the workplace with efficiency and sustainability, rather than short doses of motivation that are only aimed at very, very short-term goals. She defined sustainable leadership as “harnessing one’s values, strengths, resources, and enthusiasm to lead people towards short and long-term solutions that are socially, economically, and environmentally for the greater good.” And while she went on spilling out wisdom on how to get to this level, one quote stood out to me:
“Your legacy is what you leave behind.”
I found that quite interesting: you don’t often hear about one’s legacy in a work environment. When I think of LEGACY, I think of Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, Martin Luther King, Jr., Einstein and Tesla and Edison and JFK and Gandhi and Mother Theresa. You know, people who left a footprint on the sandy earth that the tide can’t wash away. And I thought to myself, no offense, Mike, but your job isn’t exactly earth shaking.
Then it hit me. Neil Armstrong’s job title was astronaut. Tesla’s job title was engineer (and he actually worked for Edison for a while). JFK’s job title was President of the USA. Mother Theresa was a nun. They had jobs, and nowhere in their job descriptions did it say, “Leave an everlasting footprint on mankind” or “Be written about in history books for the rest of time.” When we take a step back from what they did for the world and take a glance at what they did as a person, we can see they were simply highly motivated individuals with numerous short and long term goals. And you know what? I’m a dude with a job, and I’m motivated, and I have numerous goals too. Heather, sitting across from me, has a job and is very highly motivated and has tons of short and long term goals. You, reading this, have a job, are motivated at least enough to read this, and probably have short and long term goals even if they’re not clearly listed in your head. Sure, Neil Armstrong and JFK and Gandhi had jobs that were a little more high-profile, but they were in the same positions we are: employed.
Here’s a few more examples of some famous employees in history:
Editor/Printer ofThe Pennsylvania Gazette
Old Ben used his success and voice as the editor of the PA Gazette (at the time, the leading newspaper of the colonies) to gain prominence as a political figure, author, inventor, and scientist. His electrical experiments with the kite were published in his newspaper, on which he always signed, “B. Franklin, Printer.” None of them were taken too seriously until a man named Joseph Priestley published them in his 1767 article, History and Present Status of Electricity.
Volunteer nurse, Crimean War
Instead of marrying a rich politician, Florence Nightingale taught herself nursing and medical science and took off for the war. Once there, she convinced the British government, with startling evidence, that the high death rate of their soldiers was not due to wartime injuries, but to poor living conditions, sanitation, malnutrition, and overwork. A sanitary hospital was quickly built, and it’s said that Nightingale’s determination lowered the British death-rate from 42% to 2% in her years on site.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
Professor of Vocal Physiology at Boston University
Bell’s work with sign language (or the Visible Speech System) prompted his interest in speech of all kinds, audible or visible. His endless study on sound waves and their transfer through air and electricity helped him invent the phonautograph, which drew sound waves on paper. His assistant, Thomas Watson, accidentally bumped a reed, knocking it off place, and Bell, at the receiving end of the line, heard “speech-like” overtones. He eventually beat Thomas Edison to the patent office with hand-drawn diagrams of the first telephone.
Song plugger, piano teacher
During a slow day at work (George previewed sheet music to customers at a music store), he fumbled around on the piano with a new song he’d begun working on the night before that he called “Swanee.”. His boss thought it sounded neat, and invited him to play piano at his party later that week. When George played the tune at the party, it caught the ear of Al Jolson, a famous Broadway singer, who then sang it in one of his shows. This got George a job as an arranger and lyricist on Broadway, where he’d pen some of the most famous jazz songs in music history. Jolson is quoted as saying he’d never want to share a living space with Gershwin because “he’s up all night fiddling on that piano, perfecting every note.”
Leave your legacy, people. You just never know what kind of an impact it will make.
Thanks for reading, and as always, make it a great day!