Kiwihug (Unsplash)

‘Dan’s’ career is going gangbusters. He is loving his work even if it does involve a lot of travel. He is excited about what the job entails and the opportunities to make a difference. But something was not quite right. He told me his Dad went into an aged care facility two months ago, suffering with dementia. He will never have an intelligible conversation with his Dad again.

Dan said, “It made me really stop and think. Does what I am doing really matter? Is it really making a difference? What kind of legacy will I leave?”

These are the questions we face when we are staring down the barrel of an Achiever lifestyle and mental framework. We are accomplished, have many wins under our belt, but the meaning piece comes up short.

Now is the perfect time to consider legacy. When we come face to face with our limitations, like mortality, we can start to move beyond them, to consider what can help us experience being Boundless, no borders, no barriers. Well-thought legacy is a gateway to Boundless Leadership beyond the limitations of mortality.

The word legacy has interesting connotations. I think of the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called Ozymandias, about the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The image of the decaying broken sculpture stayed with me as I pondered civilisation and the temporary nature of all things, even great things that we build to last.

I love this reflection from TED’s curator Chris Anderson on the tenth anniversary of making talks free on the internet. He asks,

“What are we building today that will last 1,000 years?” The answer? Ideas that stand the test of time, pushing past borders and encouraging compassion.

He did not say monuments to ourselves.

It always struck me as a huge contrast that Aboriginal people named places after animals, or features, never after people (that I am aware of). I am guessing that after 30,000 years and more of continuous human cultural stories, that the actions of people compare little with the story of earth, wind, and water. They put human history in its proper context: part of the land, not masters of it. Non-Aboriginal place names by contrast are often chosen for long-dead folks, their deeds forgotten within a generation or two.

So what then is the purpose of legacy? If we are forgotten within two generations of living memory, on what and why might we focus?

Legacy is not an ego trip. Boundless Leadership legacy is to know that you contribute to something greater than yourself, rather to be known for your contribution.

For parents, children are a significant legacy project. How does one raise socially conscious, well-adjusted, happy, healthy humans who do good in the world? A lot of that is not up to us of course, it’s up to them. Our job is to be the change we wish to see, as Gandhi so aptly encouraged.

It’s the ideas, the principles behind the doing that are the real legacy work.

It’s by asking, How do I build more value? How can I create more capacity? How can I be more compassionate? How do I shift the systems and values in our community to be more inclusive? More peaceful? More prosperous? What future vision of the human condition can I see and move us towards?

For me, as I do not have children, my legacy is on modeling deep compassion in everything I do. I’m obsessed with inspiring big thinkers, with big hearts to make a big difference. I bring the message of possibility, adventure, and connection to my work with leaders. My wish is that they lead lives of happiness and courage, and their ripple effect reaches long through the sands of time.

Dan sits on the edge of these questions too. ‘How can I be better? How can I think more deeply? How can I have broader and longer positive contribution beyond my day to day work?’ It’s a powerful and moving time to sit with legacy.

What about you? What calls to you in your work? Do you feel yourself drawn beyond Achieving to Amplify a message that lasts beyond your tenure? What is it? Please share!

We are making space for this kind of contemplation and conversation at the Edge of Leadership UnConference March 21-22 2019. Come and have wonderful exploration with us.



  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.