On legacy, and building things that matter

I’m in the midst of a short leave from work to focus on personal matters (my dad is older and I am spending some time thinking about his living situation). 

As I was wrapping up projects and handing off responsibilities before Christmas, my boss half-jokingly said she was afraid that things would fall down while I was gone. I grinned, because, yeah, I’d like to think I’m that valuable…but the truth is that if things did fall apart, I would know I hadn’t done a good job of building structure.

This is something I believe in strongly. I tend to live in the present and don’t spend a lot of time considering what people will think after I’m gone, or hey, really even what they think once I’ve left the room. But I do give a lot of thought to how the things I build will enable others to learn, think, and create structures of their own.

Truthfully,  many smart and talented people build things that depend on their personal involvement. Some of them are even my friends or people I have business connections with.

“It wasn’t clear that he had put lasting structures in place that would survive past his own association with the company. “

— Charlie O’Donnell (@ceonyc) on brand evangelism and leaving behind structure

Work is one place where this happens, but you can see the same dynamic elsewhere, too.

Friendships or relationships that see-saw because neither person seems to ever know where they stand, or share a common language. Family connections that deteriorate for similar reasons.

I often say that my mission is building structure that enables people to be and do better. Of course I appreciate compliments and praise as much as the next person, but my favorite thing is watching people use structure that I’ve built, have a great deal of success, and exclaim “this was so easy, it didn’t take any work at all.”

Anyone who’s ever done project management or something close to it will recognize that moment. I just quietly smile and say “yep, it was easy wasn’t it.” But that’s what structure people do, we create conditions for everything to go right, and at the end of the day we’d rather people make and take actions themselves, as opposed to being told what to do.

Speaking of which, I’m working on what’s tentatively called a “Fair Play Guide to Digital Conversations”

The idea comes from watching social media flare ups like this one. They seem to be occurring more and more frequently, and people seem to be getting less and less constructive. I’m in the middle of writing a longer piece about that, but for now, if you have any thoughts on  ground rules for conversations online, drop a line.

So far I’m working with things like: No one offs, you must care about what comes after you call someone out. Context matters. etc….

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3 thoughts on “On legacy, and building things that matter”

  1. You know, one of the best business mentors I worked with used to say that there are two ways to change behaviors. One shows quick results, but has no lasting power. Usually the change is wrought through crisis and micro management. The other may show the movement a bit more slowly, but the change becomes permanent. That one requires explanation, coaching and development…usually only correcting one specific detail at a time while still remembering to praise what is working until every behavior has been addressed. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that this long term approach works wonderfully for adjusting behaviors in every aspect of life from communication issues to interpersonal relationships. For some reason your post brought that back to the forefront of my mind. Great reminder as we enter a new year. Want to see change? Make it happen!

    1. I really like that point Kitt. I think the consistency piece is huge. It takes a long time to build a habit or action/tactic, and then connect it to others. Also the scale of things (which I wrote about last month) is critical. An economy and culture where “more” is the end goal, is troubling. Maybe my 2014 goals should all be about doing less…hah…

      1. LOL! Mine are still about doing more, but it’s along the lines of…Say ‘I love you’ to the people that matter to me more, be more patient, do more things to help others (preferably anonymously) without expecting a return on my investment. You know, more things that matter in the end, rather than more things I won’t follow through on or that take me away from the people and things I love. ;-)

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