I’ve been thinking a lot about legacies lately.
You see, last week I had the opportunity to participate in a unique and amazing experience. In preparation for and in honor of the impending retirement of long time music teacher and director of the Quaker Marching Band from Orchard Park High School outside of Buffalo, NY, a group of current members and band alumni gathered for a surprise final performance and tribute to our leader of so many years and so many graduating classes. The group numbered at 175, encompassed 6 states, and spanned the years 1986 – 2015. I was there, proudly spinning my flag with the color guard, something I hadn’t done in 21 years. The feeling of being a part of such a salute was overwhelming, his reaction was heartwarming, the video and verbal tributes were touching, and I’d be surprised if there were many dry eyes in the auditorium by the end. And that group of 175 people who had never performed together before approximately 7PM that night….pretty darn impressive, from my not at all biased opinion. It was our own version of “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” if you will.
But the theme that kept running through my head the entire evening was that of legacies, and I feel as if it manifested in several ways.
There was first and foremost the legacy that Chris, our band director, leaves behind. When you can get that many people, from all parts of the country, some of whom hadn’t picked up an instrument, flag, or rifle in decades, to drop everything to be a part of a tribute, you know that person has made a lasting impact. The number quoted was 700 people who have been a part of the band over the years, and there were many who were devastated that logistically they just couldn’t be there for this final tribute. Talking to some of the alumni from my era afterwards, we all agreed that being a part of the band was something we would never forget, that was such an important part of our high school years, and the lessons learned still remain with us as adults. I had the privilege of serving as color guard captain my junior and senior years, and those leadership skills learned are certainly still relevant to me as an adult. Chris was our leader throughout this critical, wonderful time in our lives, and as such he was always be remembered for it. Being a part of “QMB” taught us the value of hard work and dedication; resilience and how to bounce back from failure and defeat; and confidence, pride, and that success requires practice, some wrong notes, and more than a few dropped flags. A true legacy that spans decades, crosses state lines, and likely finds its way into the personal and professional lives of hundreds.
The other aspect of legacy that touched me was a little more personal, and that was having had the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than myself. There was a good sized contingent of alumni from my era that took part, but as I looked around as we were gathered in the gym beforehand and read the nametags and graduation years of others there, I realized how many eras this band has spanned. There were those that came before me, and many, many who came after me. In the four years that I was a member, I helped to set the stage for the success of those who came after, just as those who came before me set the stage for my success. Pretty inspiring when you think about how many people have worn that uniform, marched those football fields, and accepted those awards at competitions across the years. And we all played a part in making the band what it has become today.
If you’ve stayed with me and indulged my walk down memory lane to this point, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with a human resources blog?”
The truth is, we ALL have the opportunity to create a legacy, no matter what we do or where we work. We often talk about the legacies that teachers or coaches build, but it’s not unique to those professions. As leaders and as HR professionals, we have the opportunity to touch our employees’ and coworkers lives every day. So I ask you, as a leader, as an HR professional:
- Are you helping to create work environments and cultures that encourage failure on the way to success?
- Are you creating environments where employees feel a part of something bigger than themselves?
- Are you personally helping to set the stage within your company for the successes that may come after you are gone, either from your position or from the company itself?
- Is your culture one that instills the values in your employees that you would want them to keep with them and pass on to others?
- As you make decisions that affect your employees, do you make them within the framework and mindset of how they might impact their lives?
When your employees, coworkers, executives, and others you work with on a daily basis reflect on your time with the company and your contributions, what kind legacy will they say you left? I know that I hope mine is even a small fraction of what I felt around me on May 11, 2015.
Band ten HUT!
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent acquisition and development in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.