your legacy

05 Oct 2017


Self-improvement is as much about being better as it is doing better. If we want to be the best we can be we need to see the bigger picture.

Words: Dominic Irvine, Epiphanies

When I am poring over masses of data and feel overwhelmed I remember the tactics taught to me as a postgraduate research student by my supervisor, Professor Peter Taylor. He suggested we scan for anomalies, a great way to start making sense of complexity. But while I will never forget his techniques, it is the way that Peter managed me that I remember so well. I came out of every discussion clearer in my understanding of what needed to be done and motivated to do it.

Then there was, well, let’s call him William. William was a lazy manager who handed out tasks either because he had forgotten he needed to do them or because he wanted to avoid having to face up to the people he had wronged. I remember William for all the wrong reasons.

I have competed in various ironman challenges and in 2015 broke the world record for cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats on a tandem, and I can remember the best and worst coaches I’ve had. Despite asking me to keep a regular commentary in my training log, one coach never seemed to read it. I even wrote in the notes one day, “Are you reading this?” It was clear that he wasn’t and we stopped working together soon afterwards.

Compare this to Professor Simon Jobson who coaches me today. He checks my training log daily even when on holiday and offers his thoughts in response to my commentary. I talk about both men today but in very different ways.


The point is, your behaviour can either provide a warning or set an example. The measurable legacy that you leave in terms of the targets or final positions you achieved, the profitability and efficiency of the organisations or teams you led, the silverware you brought home or some other dimension of performance will be recorded but forgotten relatively quickly.

What will live on for a lifetime is the impact that you have on others. That may be those you work with or lead, those who have never met you but who are inspired and influenced by you or those in the community whose lives or causes you choose to give your time and help to. This is, in effect, your personal brand. It’s the personification of your values, what matters to you and how you demonstrate this in your thoughts, words and deeds.

If someone was writing a eulogy about you, what would you most like it to say? “He won a lot of trophies” or “He was an inspiration to all who worked with him”? Would you just like it to number your greatest professional achievements or also to list the charities you championed, the personal sacrifices you made and the standards you upheld?

We are not born great managers or bad managers. We behave in the way we do because we choose to be that way. There is no law that requires you to be either excessively nice or horribly unpleasant, it’s a choice. It’s not enough just to be good to create a legacy – most of your teachers at school were probably ‘good’, but how many can you remember? It’s the exceptional ones that stay with you.


Your legacy can go way beyond the people you manage. We become inured to our circumstances and forget how lucky we are. I was explaining to a young hockey player who was upset because a slot in the England squad eluded her. In the year she was born so too were 621,871 other people in the UK. Roughly half were girls. Of those 310,000, a significant number will play hockey at some point. To get to compete for a place in the final couple of dozen is to be part of an incredibly small elite group of people. In this context, it’s sad not to have got further but something to celebrate to get so far. We should keep a sense of perspective. There are millions of people who will never get to do what you do.

Spending time with even just a few of them can give some hope, some courage and a sense of possibility. Like chillies in a dish, you don’t need very much to make a hell of a difference. You only need to give a small amount of time to have a significant impact on others. In so doing, it will help remind you of how lucky you are as well as benefiting others. Do it with members of your team and it will help them recalibrate too.


Creating a legacy is not something you do once and tick off the checklist. It’s a lifetime’s work. It requires personal mastery in the way that you treat others. By definition it means not doing what everyone else does, but being better than many others. It requires you to ask yourself how you would like to be remembered, working out the behaviour that will deliver that memory and then behaving in that way, day in, day out. Best of all, it’s intensely satisfying and rewarding giving to others.