Image supporting Tom Murphys leadership article illustrating a focus on legacy

Leadership – Its Affects and Legacies #9 #cong21


 In the modern world successful leadership, as in the organisation of people and resources to get things done, is regarded by many as a solely laudable achievement. Sometimes it is good people doing good work but just as often there are bad actors at play. These latter types of leaders, despite outward signs of success, can have a wholly detrimental effect on the morale of their workforce. Despite any glory they may bring upon themselves their passing from their positions of power, or this life, will go unlamented.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. The mood as well as mode of leadership matters
  2. Leadership has legacy effects that go beyond the nuts and bolts of business
  3. An organisation or an institution is like memory foam that is imprinted with the style of leadership
  4. The only thing worth commemorating on your gravestone is that you tried to make the world a better place.

About Tom Murphy:

Classics and Philosophy student at NUI Galway.

Contacting Tom Murphy

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Image supporting Tom Murphys leadership article illustrating a focus on legacy

By Tom Murphy

Anybody who has ever spent anytime with the military will know that the chain of command is really nothing more than authority expressed through the badge on one’s collar or sleeve. The same process is played out in the corporate world. Instead of personal regalia, one has a corner office or some other demonstrable display of one’s managerial perks to advertise one’s authority.

Hierarchies of leadership are really communication channels of varying sophistication. The real decisions are made by one person, or maybe just a handful of people – the rest is just a game of telephone.

However, the fact that power is so concentrated requires that those who are affected by it pay especial attention to the wielding and wielder. But it is not a neutral process. Along with the effects of power come the affects too. In a system that has a harsh boss then very shortly there emerges a harsh culture too. If it is OK for the top person to be rude an uncaring in their dealing with their co-workers, why should they not in their turn conduct themselves in a rude and uncaring way. These toxic work cultures are everywhere and are engendered by the conveyance through the system of the negative moods and wishes of the top brass. But people have bills and mortgages to pay, and they put up with the inconveniences and annoyances. After all it is just work, and nobody said work had to be fun.

People speak of leadership teams. Particularly in bureaucracies where individual responsibility is reduced as much as possible – for good reasons and bad. But within these teams there is always a leader and even though their power is in principle diffused amongst the many actors, the more politically able of them always get their way.

However, the cultural and corporate subjection to mishandled power could be alleviated if not eradicated if these words from Carl Buehner (often misattributed to Maya Angelou) were heeded: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” If leaders were genuinely mindful of these words, then what a change there would be in our relationships.

In a way, we only exist in other people’s memories. This is certainly true when we are absent from a given social activity or dead. If we, as leaders, (we are always in charge of something even if it is only ourselves) took on board that our only true legacy was the way we made other people feel then surely, we would alter our behaviours accordingly. Knowing that we will forever be remembered for creating a kindly and supportive, workspace or institution that gave people confidence and hope would be a worthwhile thing to strive for.

And maybe, just maybe, the quality of our work would improve too. Maybe challenges could be handled more forthrightly, and difficulties processed with greater ease.

Organisations and institutions are like a kind of memory foam. They are imprinted with the thoughts and emotions of their leaders. One would hope that with enlightened self-interest that leaders would be more mindful of how they are remembered. That they won’t be remembered for shiny gongs, colourful ribbons, and all the other awards that go with what people normally associate with success. They will be remembered for how they made people feel. (Obviously, this sentiment is not shared by the psychopaths amongst us.) And with that lies the distinct choice and responsibility of how they should behave themselves. After all nobody wants, “Good Riddance, Nobody Liked You” written on their tombstone.