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A dear one in my church family passed away after 90 years of a well lived and loved life.  As I saw the Facebook posts roll in, it was remarkable, but not surprising, the impact she made.  When her obituary is written it will say, 1924 – 2014, but it will be what’s behind the dash between those two years that tell the real story of her legacy.

For this loved one, her dash includes a deep faith, love for her family and being the grandma to everyone at church who always had a bag of Swedish Fish candy that made everyone smile.  The dash also includes an immeasurable impact on the lives of those around her through her optimism and warm, welcoming demeanor.

Since I heard about her passing and also having just celebrated a milestone birthday of my own, I’ve been considering my own dash and the story that will be contained in that simple symbol.

What will it represent when my time on earth is complete?

Will it be – Jeff got the job done; he was efficient, professional and dependable?  Goodness, I hope that’s not all.  I hope the dash represents generosity, authenticity, encouragement, leadership and that I loved those God puts into my life.

As leaders, we have a huge opportunity before us.  We can certainly be known as the one who gets the job done; who shows the way and can be depended upon to complete the task, project or mission.  This is a fine legacy, but our legacies can also be colored by the deep impact we have on people’s lives.  Our influence on those we lead can truly transform lives.  This is not an “either/or” decision.  It is a “both/and” one.  The choice is ours.

This hit home in 2011 as I left corporate life and a colleague commented that the way I communicated with him and the team made him a better husband.  That’s not just an impact of one, that’s a generational impact.

This again was reinforced by Admiral William McRaven’s commencement speech to the 8,000 graduates of the University of Texas.

“Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their life time. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just ten people—and each one of those folks changed the lives of another ten people—just ten—then in five generations—125 years—the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.  800 million people—think of it—over twice the population of the United States.  Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—8 billion people.”

We as leaders have this opportunity before us. What will be the story behind your dash? What legacy will your leadership leave? The choice is yours.

Find the legitimate need today of someone you lead and sacrifice for and serve that need

Jeff HarmonJeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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