On leaving a legacy 

This is the bonus blog … a New Year, ‘two for the price of one’ deal if you like, but a bit different from the other blogs. 

One of the purposes behind this grown up gap year is to take time out to think and ponder.  One of the questions I have been wrestling with is why ‘succesful’ organisations find it so hard to sustain that success from one generation to the next.  In posing that question I was thinking mainly about churches, but the same applies to businesses, sports teams and even families. Why is it that you see a church for instance thrive for a period of time under the guidance of a charismatic leader only for it to fade away after that leader has gone? The key question is what do leaders need to do to lay down a lasting legacy?

If we think of it in terms of leaving a physical legacy the first thing we need to be clear about is who are we leaving the legacy to – who is it we are handing our leadership mantle on to? Whilst it is tempting to think of ourselves as the person that is holding the church, the team or the family together it is fundamentally a failure of leadership if we don’t identify and train up the person or people who will come after us to take the organisation forward.  

And not only to train them to take over from us and do what we did, but train them to do more and to be more than we are. The greatest examples from the Bible show us that inspiring leaders are those who had a higher expectation of those who would follow than they had of themselves. Elisha carried a double portion of anointing from Elijah, Solomon was the one appointed to build the temple that his father, King David, was prevented from building and even Jesus himself said that his followers would do greater things than he did because he was going to the Father.  None of those leaders – Elijah, King David or Jesus – can be said to be diminished because they held greater expectation of those that followed than they had of themselves! 

There are though countless examples of the opposite spirit – the charismatic leader, the dominating parent or the powerful chief executive who project themselves as being the person upon whom success or failure depend and whose ego is fed by being seen as ‘number one’.  I am sure all of you could insert any number of names into those slots.  I am by contrast rather drawn to the leader I heard speak once who said ‘there is only one thing better than scoring a try at rugby, and that is seeing your son score a try at rugby!’. What joy there is in seeing our children succeed in ways we never could.

So, if we need to identify who we are leaving our legacy to (as we do when we write a will) and if we need to train them to take on the leadership mantle with an expectation they will do greater things than we did, there is one more thing that needs to happen for the legacy to pass – and this is possibly the hardest step of all for a leader to take – there has to be a death.

Not a physical death I hope, because the fun should be in actually seeing your plans come to fruition, but rather a time when you as leader step aside and let the next generation lead without you.  Maybe this is the time to move onto other things, to start new projects, to take your leadership gifts and apply them elsewhere but whatever you do, step aside and let your successors lead without you.  That is a tough ask but unless you can let go completely then you have created nothing that will last, let alone thrive. 

Maybe we need to reassess how we judge success.  Maybe the success of a great leader is not how the organisation performed while they were at the helm, but rather how it performed after they left!

Please let me know your thoughts on what I have written – does this strike a chord with you or have I got it completely wrong? 

Sunset over Golden Bay, Stewart Island

5 Comments on “On leaving a legacy ”

  1. Thank you for writing this Ian. I think this is spot on.
    We do need to let, indeed encourage, our young to fledge the nest, knowing we have equipped them with some skills for the next season of their lives. I doubt one person will be the only forming influence – I know I try to put myself, and those I love, among those who can positively teach me (or them). I also think we are often both leaders and learners at the same time, giving and receiving as we go through our lives.
    Happy New Year
    Love Alice xx

  2. Loving this blog and soo true… it def hits a chord 👏🏻😊

    Without God at centre it’s hard to get this right – timing is everything – we may know who to hand over leadership too but a time of training/equipping is needed and then discernment to know when to pull back completely.. to fast before someone is ready or too slow that leaves others frustrated etc often makes this go wrong…

    The other thought I have and feel strongly about is that as a leader – often they train others to ‘do it my way’ – whereas we need to equip others to catch the HEART of what we do and then trust them to carry the heart forward – even if it looks different!

    If we teach the core values well then we can confidently handover to future leaders with confidence and go and be released for the next stage of adventure God has for us…

    Keep these blogs coming Ian – loving them 😘

    1. Great point Helen. Help people see the heart of what you have tried to achieve and help them catch the same vision. The future will inevitably be different from the past or the present so not much point training people to do things your way!

      1. Loving this article and comments too, thanks. It can be hard to pass the baton to others without wanting those who follow to do it ‘your way’, as often there are lots of reasons why you’re doing it that way! (Some of which learned by doing it wrong in the past), however, also important to hand over and give space for people to have a go! I have also been challenged that as a leader, we mustn’t get bogged down with knowing what “my purpose” is as that makes it too much about us, instead, we need to know what our role is within “God’s greater purpose”

  3. Just read this aloud to Richard whilst he searches through tonnes of Lego to make yet another carriage for the railway for the grandchildren! Very poignant and so true. We will be reflecting on this next year as our family increases and our area of influence along with it. Sending our love across the miles to you both for a joyful and exciting 2018.

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