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Goal Setting Leaders – put their legacies first

… Put Their Legacies First!

What separates goal setting leaders from the crowd? In any given situation, true leaders are inclined to look at the bigger picture. True, narrow life goals are important – life is for living, after all. Leaders though, might reasonably ask: is true success measured by what we have, or by what we leave behind?

As Russell Crowe’s “Maximus” shouts, when exhorting his troops to battle in the opening scenes of the epic film “Gladiator”:

“What we do in this life echoes in eternity!”

Think about this, and the other quotes below. Ask yourself: how do you measure success, and what lasting contribution would you like to make?

Enduring Success

In our article: Stress Management Tip, we discussed the ideas of Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson. In their book: Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life, these two Harvard academics encourage us to re-frame how we think about success. The opening lines from this book are worthy of any goal setting leaders:

“Success is clearly about more than making money, but it’s also not just about happiness. You can have wealth and pleasure and still feel dissatisfied on many fronts. What, then, is real success and what does it take to achieve it in lasting terms that benefit you and others? How do you prepare your children and your business to succeed on the goals they most deeply value and have a reasonable chance of obtaining?”


Nash and Stevenson argue that “enduring success” is only achieved by achieving a balance between:

  1. Happiness – feelings of pleasure or contentment about life;
  2. Achievement – accomplishments;
  3. Significance – a positive impact on people you care about;
  4. Legacy – establishing your values or accomplishments in ways that help others find future success.

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Uncommon Leadership: how to build competitive edge by thinking differently

Uncommon Leadership

Or as Ralf Waldo Emerson put it:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”


Fine words and sentiments, but for goal setting leaders they beg key questions. For whom should we try to make a difference? How big does that difference need to be, and how do we go about making it? Perhaps some useful answers can be found in the thoughts of past and present goal setting leaders.

In our book “Uncommon Leadership” we tell the unusual story of UK retailer John Lewis, celebrating in 2014 150 years of trading. John Lewis is a good example of goal setting leaders leaving a legacy. It’s a business with a difference, one that has succeeded over the long term, with a reputation for high quality products and for being a great place to work. But it is also a business with another legacy, as we note in our book: “It’s because John Lewis does business differently, and it’s a very startling difference. To begin with, how many businesses can you name that put the happiness of their employees (or partners) at the core of everything they do?”

John Lewis illustrates how goal setting leaders can make an impact, but it doesn’t always have to be focused on the big things in life.

Goal Setting Leaders Just Make A Difference

For whom should we try to make a difference?

One definition of a legacy is something handed down by a predecessor. It’s easy to focus on ancestral bequests when thinking of legacies, but we mustn’t forget the value of the less tangible things we leave behind. Take Ralf Waldo Emerson’s definition of success: “to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived; this is to have succeeded.”

How big does that difference need to be?Goal setting leaders

Evan Carmichael’s website is a rich source of information on goal setting leaders. Consider these Andrew Carnegie quotes, from the site. One of history’s most famous entrepreneurs, Carnegie’s essay: Gospel of Wealth had a profound influence on his generation of industrialists. He once said: “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” Before his death, Carnegie had given away the bulk of his vast fortune (over $4 billion at a year 2000 equivalence). “Surplus wealth” he said, “is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.”

However, the scale of a legacy is less important than the spirit with which it is left. Whether the billions made by Carnegie Steel, or Emerson’s poetic notions, the importance of legacy is simply that it makes a difference. Even that which costs nothing is of value, provided it’s given freely. A fact perhaps even recognised by Carnegie himself, when he said: “There is little success where there is little laughter”.

How do we go about making it?

There are numerous techniques to help us build legacies into our plans. Modern goal setting leaders frequently propose a range of activities. Different forms of visualisation are amongst the most effective.

“The Reports Of My Death…”

In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield writes of his experiences with “come as you will be” parties. At these, guests dress and act as they envisage themselves to be at an agreed future date. Emerson would have approved of one woman guest who paid an actress to appear as her teenage daughter. The woman’s visualisation was of a fulfilling relationship with her healthy, happy, well-adjusted daughter.

“Set aside time each and every day to visualize every one of your goals as already complete. This is one of the most vital things you can do to make your dreams come true. Some psychologists are now claiming that one hour of visualization is worth 7 hours of physical effort. That’s a tall claim, but it makes an important point – visualization is one of the strongest tools in your success toolbox. Make sure you use it.”

Another advocate of visualisation is Stephen Covey. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey talks about the power of this goal setting activity. Envisaging how our lives might be when celebrating landmark moments is a powerful experience. Successful visualisation can stimulate life-changing insights, triggered by deep emotional responses. These can alter any life goals, before it’s too late.

“You can visualise your twenty-fifth and then your fiftieth wedding anniversary… Try to capture the essence of the family relationship you want to have created through your day-to-day investment over a period of that many years. You can visualise your retirement from your present occupation. What contributions, what achievements will you have made in your field?”

Another Covey suggestion is a variation on the premature obituary theme. He recommends writing your own eulogy as a visualisation technique, designed to focus the mind on defining life goals. However, the most famous example of a false obituary was a case of mistaken identity. Imagine reading your own obituary, published in error. And imagine if the the content was a stinging rebuke of your life’s work…

“….. Are Greatly Exaggerated!”

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” was one of many famous Mark Twain quotes. Harmless but witty. However, the impact of incorrect reports of Alfred Nobel’s death were much more profound. In 1888, a French newspaper mistook the healthy Swedish industrialist for his late brother, Ludwig. During his lifetime, Alfred Nobel’s most famous achievement was the invention of dynamite. Although this substance revolutionised mining and construction, Nobel’s premature obituary took an entirely different slant. It focused instead on the contribution his invention had made to modern warfare.

“The merchant of death is dead”, stated the obituary. ” Dr. Alfred Nobel “, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” Horrified at this interpretation of his legacy, Nobel changed his will. On his actual death, the majority of his estate was used to fund the Nobel prizes. Each year since 1901, prizes have been awarded celebrating outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. Some might argue this was an attempt at atonement – a charge levelled at many of the super-rich who become philanthropists. However you interpret Nobel’s actions, this is a great example of putting a legacy first.”

Make a Contribution – Goal Setting Leaders For Life

Goal setting leadersYou could be one of life’s goal setting leaders. You don’t need to be a Carnegie or a Covey. Consider Emerson’s words, and think about how even the smallest contribution can alter the lives of people around us. As managers, you’re well placed to leave a significant legacy, for the individuals you work with, and the organisations you work for.

Here are some questions to think through:

  • Do you do enough for your families and friends? Here and now?
  • How can we leave our organisations better than we found them?
  • How can we help those we work with to reach their potential.
  • How can we help them to build on their strengths – to find the best in others?
  • Can you visualise the contributions and achievements you’ll be able to celebrate on your retirement?
  • In what ways can we contribute more widely to our communities?
  • What moves you? What do you have a passion for? What do you care about? In Jeremy Bentham’s words, in which of these areas could you make a contribution, to diminish someone’s pain, or add to someone’s pleasure?
  • Would you like to be one of life’s goal setting leaders?

Without doubt goal setting leaders need to think differently and ask some different questions. It is all too easy to focus on short term goals, which can all too often harm the long term.

Can you be a goal setting leader?

Find our how in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them. It includes:

  • How do you define goal setting?
  • What features of goal setting are important, if we want to ensure they are more likely to be successfully achieved?
  • What kinds of goals are more likely to make us motivated to achieve them?
  • How do you set SMART goals?
  • Why do goals matter?
  • What kind of goals should you pursue to be happier in what you do?
  • How do you set team goals?
  • What strategies can you apply to overcome barriers to setting goals?
  • How do you develop SHARP plans of action that help you to achieve your goals?
  • What techniques can you use to get things done?
  • How do you set personal goals?


  • Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
  • Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
  • Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
  • Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
  • Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
  • Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions

Goal Setting Resources

You can find more of our goal setting resources by reading our featured pages (below).

Goal setting leaders

You’ll find our new e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals is a fantastic, goal setting resource. It’s packed with advice and tools – use it to help you set SMART goals then take SHARP actions to achieve them!

One of our affiliate partners also has an excellent, on-line, goal setting resource. GoalsOnTrack is a “personal success system that will help you really accomplish goals by getting the right things done”.



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