Do you ever watch a campaign speech and wonder, “What is driving this person?” Why is a political office so important that candidates put in 16-hour days, seven days a week, for weeks on end to earn your vote?
They have ideas on ways to make things better, sure. The desires for power and prestige certainly play a role as well. But there is something more: the desire to leave a mark — a legacy that will endure beyond their term in office.
It’s the same for business owners. Behind every business — behind the mission statements, financial statements and office leases — is a quest to build something enduring. Let’s face it: If you just wanted to earn a paycheck, you could probably find a company to utilize your skills to do some cool stuff. You started a business instead.
But after a few years, the daily grind can make you feel, well, ground. Perhaps it’s time to take some inspiration from our (better) political leaders and rethink and assess your business legacy.
A Secure Financial Legacy
While every company wants to make money, there is more to a financial legacy than a balance sheet. A strong financial legacy means being able to weather market storms, presidential elections or whatever the world might throw at you. In short, it means security. It means employees who feel secure in your company’s future. It means healthy growth and a sustainable charitable giving and community service program.
Is your company purposefully growing or just growing for the sake of it? Are you taking calculated risks, irresponsible risks or no risks at all? If you asked your employees where they planned to be in five years, would they give your company’s name? These all speak to the security of your company’s financial legacy — a legacy of fulfilled employees.
It’s easy to think of happy and healthy employees as the means to an end. Of course, there is a business case to be made for empowering your employees. Identifying and training the right person for the job is expensive and time-consuming.
But the legacy of your business depends heavily on the perception of those who have worked there. Andrew Carnegie obviously wanted to be remembered for his philanthropic endeavors, and to a certain extent, he is. But schoolchildren will forever learn of his battles with workers, his name indelibly linked to the Pinkertons. His legacy is defined by how he treated those who worked for him.
That’s an extreme example, of course. Outside of pay and benefits, the most common complaint among today’s employees is a lack of communication. Do your employees understand your mission? Do they feel engaged in it, or are they simply checking the box? The answer to those questions defines your business.
A Legacy of Industry Change
For most business owners, making an impact on an industry is a key component of their company’s legacy. Not every company can be the first or the biggest, of course. But every company can put a stamp on the industry it serves.
How has your company adapted over the past five years or (especially) over the past nine months? What is your company doing that nobody else does? You and your employees will feel more fulfilled if you are innovating and changing the industry in some way.
Your Public Story as Legacy
You’ve heard the expression “all publicity is good publicity.” Anyone caught committing a crime will tell you that’s false. I’ll take their skepticism a step further. Why focus on publicity in the first place? Is publicity itself good?
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with tooting your own horn to a certain extent. If you are voted a “best place to work,” by all means, tell the world. But ultimately, your public legacy will be about the stories you can tell organically because of what your company truly is.
Do you have employees who are making a difference? Have you helped a community overcome an obstacle? That will matter far more to the public than an award or acquisition.
A Legacy to Your Family
Often, when people think of a family legacy, they think of children taking over the family business or following in their parent’s footsteps. That is an outmoded and incomplete idea of what a family business legacy entails.
When you own a business, your family becomes a silent shareholder. When business is booming, things are good. When business is down, times can be tougher. If you are overworked, they feel the stress.
How your family experiences your business is a big part of your legacy. Instead of asking whether your children would want to join the family business, ask whether they would ever consider running a business at all. Ask how they would treat their employees. Ask whether they have a positive attitude toward work. If they don’t, it’s a good sign they aren’t happy shareholders.
Your Personal Legacy
Last, but certainly not least, what is your company doing for you? That might seem like a selfish question, but if your company isn’t a source of pride and fulfillment for its owner, it won’t leave a positive legacy and probably won’t be around very long.
Like it or not, you are going to be the face of your company to your customers, your employees and the public. You should be able to go to work every day excited about your company’s mission and confident in its direction. If not, it’s time to make some changes.
Are you confident in your company’s path? Is your work permitting proper work-life balance? Do you feel as though you are inspiring the next generation of company leadership?
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.