I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy in the last several weeks. Not so much as it’s defined by image (how one would like to be credited) but more about contribution (how one would like to impact the field). Most leaders do subscribe to one of these two aforementioned interpretations of legacy-building. The “me” leader and the “we” leader. I suppose we’re all some blend of both, generally gravitating to one over the other.


These needn’t be fixed attributes though. I was recently on an artistic sustainability panel when someone from the audience asked about the difference in our process today compared to when we began. For me, I have come to understand better what it means to be “of service” rather than aiming only to “make my mark” as I did when I was younger. My path is, from the outside, not so radically transformed but my motivations have indeed changed and therefore so have my results – in great ways. Mostly, I find that I am working more congruently with my values. My relationships have entirely reorganized, I have fine-tuned my priorities and I am henceforth captaining a more smoothly sailing ship. One may succeed – whatever that means – using any method. I’m sure that a Me Leader can will his or her way to the top and collect plenty of kudos en route. But at what personal or public cost? Ironically, if you go for self, you’re unlikely to leave that sought after imprint (a positive one anyway), whereas if you go for service, you just might make that meaningful and lasting impression after all.

Me vs. We

What follows is a list of points where these approaches between The Me Leader and The We Leader diverge most dramatically in philosophy and in practice.

  1. The Me Leader likes to get recognition. The We Leader likes to give recognition.
  2. The Me Leader trains subordinates. The We Leader trains successors.
  3. The Me Leader sees competition. The We Leader sees collaboration.
  4. The Me Leader hoards assignments. The We Leader delegates assignments.
  5. The Me Leader shifts responsibility. The We Leader accepts responsibility.
  6. The Me Leader takes pride in predicting collapse after vacating a position. The We Leader takes pride in having built greatness that endures after vacating a position.

Start Where You Stand

Now, before you get too excited, I didn’t make this list so you can go point fingers and mutter curses at your colleagues. See bullet #5. Instead, this may be an opportunity to check in with self. It’s applicable to all of us, even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself a leader. There are lots of us that in our lifetime may never get the acknowledgment – the red carpet, the trophy, the book deal, the big job – but that doesn’t mean you aren’t affecting countless lives. Start where you stand. Take stock. Ask: How can I reduce my own psychic pollution? How can I offer others a chance to advance? How can I welcome people into my work? How can I make a contribution?

Legacy as it is correctly defined is synonymous with inheritance. What gifts then – true gifts, selfless gifts, gifts that you’d give whether or not you ever got the due props – would you leave to the people that you make contact with every day or even just momentarily? That is your legacy.

This post is dedicated to E. Ivan Fructuoso (pictured above, photo by Richgail Cruz Enriquez, painting by James Ganyan Garcia), theater artist, poet, community member, kuya to many, dedicated servant leader, and Art Of Hustle supporter. Rest in paradise.

Enjoy this video featuring music by Lifesavas. The song is brilliantly written, funny, and matches a lot of what this post is getting at.