Building Your Legacy: What metrics are important?

The first Olympic 26.2-mile marathon, back in 1896, was won in just under three hours. Roughly a century and a quarter later, the record now stands at a blazing-fast 2 hours. By 2050, will we see a record of 1.1 hours?

Is it possible?

Is it significant?

And, more importantly, why are we so focused on it?

Running a marathon is impressive, but not at the cost of losing your bodily functions, endangering your organs, or dropping dead. Training for years to shave seconds off of miles makes no sense to me in terms of what one could be contributing to society.

Sometimes metrics become meaningless. No one would argue that we want to increase the speed of EMTs reaching patients in crisis, or rescue attempts in natural disasters. But those aren’t competitive sports; they’re vital human needs.

We see the same questionable metrics in business. In Dubai, which is Disneyland for adults with a lot of disposable income, locals tout the only six-star hotel (Burj Al Arab), the tallest building (Burj Khalifa), highest restaurant (At.mosphere), and so on, ad nauseum. It quickly grows boring, particularly when the guide says, “We have more construction cranes than anywhere else on earth!”

What counts as an accomplishment?

In terms of your legacy, what is really an accomplishment? Lindbergh proving that planes could fly the Atlantic and ushering in a new era of transportation might merit it. But can you tell me who holds the current world air speed record, or distance record, or altitude record at the moment? Neither can I.

What should be the metrics of our accomplishments then?

An improved condition: We should create improvement in others, in the environment, in processes. We all improve incrementally, not in giant leaps. If you improve by just 1% a day, for example, in 70 days you’ll be twice as good. (If you don’t believe me, do the math: keep multiplying 1 times 1% and you’ll arrive, in 70 repeats, at 2.)

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

To find the best in others, to give one’s self, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.

Generosity: The most impressive leaders I’ve ever met or observed are generous. They share information, resources, credit, and ideas. They aren’t worried about being “ripped off,” and they see their role as building abilities in others. I’m not talking about writing a check. I’m talking about building support.

Consistency: We’ve come to a point where a “fad” of a month is actually long-lived. Our metrics have to include longevity and reliability. It’s quite appropriate for someone to change his or her belief system. But it’s not appropriate to do that to gain favor with an in-crowd or be popular at parties.

When I’ve surveyed people about their most important traits in a leader, “consistency” has been a primary factor. People want to know what to expect.

Passion: At the end of last year, I watched from the back of the room as a low-key executive somberly droned on about a very positive year and full bonus pots. Someone next to me from the company asked, “Are we being fired?”

When I role-play with my coaching clients, I find the greatest shortcoming isn’t knowledge or expertise but rather a passion. They don’t motivate or inspire others because they’re strictly logical and rational, which may make people think, but they’re not emotional, which makes people act!

An improved condition, generosity, consistency, and passion. These are the metrics that truly matter. How do you measure up? Where can you improve? Running the marathon in 2 hours 2 minutes or 1 hour 58 minutes (or 4 hours and 9 minutes) doesn’t matter. What matters is what you leave behind of substance for others to appreciate and benefit from.

© Alan Weiss 2021

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