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Legacy or The Long Play? By Rob McKenna

Which is it for You, Legacy or the Long Play?

If I told you that much of your impact on others may not be realized for five, ten, or even twenty years, what would you think? I just finished watching a movie about Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. His story has some personal meaning for me because my name is Robert Bruce. I’m not aware of any real connection to him, but as a kid, I never failed to share that I was named after Robert the Bruce – the King of Scots. At the end of the movie, it was noted that an ancestor of Robert the Bruce eventually became the king over the shared nation of Scotland and England, 300 years after his death. 300 years! That’s a long time for impact that he never saw.

Playing the Long Game

What if your greatest impact may not be fulfilled or felt for 300 years? Answering that question for myself is both incredibly meaningful and challenging in the same moment. I recently had the privilege to speak to a group of leaders about whole and intentional leader development and our mission to prepare a generation of courageous and sacrificial leaders.

One of the leaders said, “You are in this for the long play.” I had never heard our work and mission described that way, but it made sense. It was one of those statements you don’t fully comprehend when it’s said, but is powerful enough to drive you to your knees if you let it sink in. “You are in this for the long play.”

At another event only a few weeks before, I had the privilege of watching two leaders I’d mentored share their own thoughts on leadership development with a group of 200 leaders. Their talks sounded like something I might say, but a whole lot better. It occurred to me then that the real impact of the mission I’m on may be felt long after I’m. If I’m honest, it’s both devastating and overwhelmingly fulfilling at the same time. There is a part of me that wants to see the fruits of my work, and another part that feels so free in my understanding that my impact matters, but it’s not all about that.

It’s Not About Your Legacy

Contrast the emphasis in every part of our culture. Whether in athletics, business, music, churches, or even in education, so much emphasis is on quick success, fast weight loss, snappy chats, instant messages, personal impact and meaning, our calling, and the worst of all – our legacy. Focusing on our own legacy is still about us, and if it’s about us and the possibility that we will see our impact, it’s by nature a very short play. Focusing on our calling also misses the point that a calling is as much or more about the one who is calling as it is about us.

I was recently asked to speak on a conference panel about corporate leader development programs and the topic was “Accelerating Leader Development.” We want it fast, we want to see the results.

  • How would your life and work look different if you thought about the long play? And, I don’t mean planning for your retirement.
  • How would your life and work look different if you believed that your impact on people was going to outlive your time in your current organization, or even your last breath?
  • How would you invest in the leaders you are responsible for developing?
  • How would the conversations with your team change?
  • What urgent emails would you put aside for a moment in order to better see the people around you? Think about that long play and the relationship to your mission.
  • How would you organize your work?
  • How would it impact the people you hire, invite, or even how you deal with conflict and moments of pressure?
  • How would a long-term focus impact how and when you speak, who is given credit, and who is given grace?

I’m not suggesting that actions for immediate resourcing, small wins, and even impact are irrelevant or wrong, but that our experience may be more honest and impactful if we realized what it may all be about in the end. My team is driven by a sense of urgency that is necessary to support leaders, but I am also being reminded that much of the impact of our work may be fulfilled long after our time on this earth.

What is your long play?


Dr. Rob McKenna is the Founder and CEO of WiLD Leaders Inc. a firm focused on whole and intentional leader development and creator of the WiLD Toolkit, a set of 10 sequential developmental tools and personalized feedback reports that provide a comprehensive and intentional development plan. He is also Chair, Dept. of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Seattle Pacific University.


Dr. Rob McKenna will be one of the main stage and workshop presenters at The Outcomes Conference 2019.

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