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what will people remember you for?

“At least you sorted the drains out”. Will that be my epitaph?

The comment came during a chance meeting with someone who worked for me twenty odd years ago, but whom I’ve not seen for five or six years. It refers to an incident at a site that I had taken over running the operations at and where there had been a perennial problem with flooding. I had been standing in the car park in the aftermath of the first big summer storm following a project to fix the problems admiring the gently steaming tarmac when my boss squared walked quietly up behind me and said, “There may be doubts as to whether or not Mussolini made the trains run on time, but at least you’ll be able to claim that you made the drains work as your legacy to mankind”.

To set out to leave some form of legacy by which you will be remembered may not be a bad thing, but it does require elements of conceit and vanity (both of which I plead guilty of from time to time). The danger comes when those vices get in the way of what you are trying to deliver and the end result becomes more about you than those who might otherwise benefit, and I’ve seen that blight often enough to be wary of it in anything that I set out to achieve these days.

As a young man I can remember being told of the bucket of water test. You plunge in both hands and swirl for all you are worth, but so quickly after you take your hands out do those waters become still again leaving no trace of your efforts. Along the same lines I am minded of an old Scots lament:

“Mony’s the ane for him makes mane, But nane sall ken whar he is gane.

Ower his white bones, when they are bare, The wind sall blaw for evermair”.

Very few people do something that leaves a long term mark, and often those that do are those who had the fortune to have circumstances collide with need rather than any plans for greatness coming to fruition. Cometh the hour, cometh the man sort of thing.

Maybe it is more the little things that you do that will make a difference. I sorted the drains by getting a CCTV survey done rather that spending a 5 figure sum every year on jet blasting as my predecessors had done. That meant that I could invest money in the two or three areas where there was a major problem and get them fixed properly. It worked and a significant irritant for the 1300 or so people who worked on the site went away.

That is classic facilities management stuff; making life better for the workers helps productivity and better productivity means more profitable business, more satisfied customers and all of those fine things. Facilities management people fix stuff. As Dara O’Briain said when he provided the entertainment at the BIFM Awards dinner a few years ago, we are like the fairies at the bottom of the garden, doing things un-noticed.

So we have a lesson in humility maybe? It isn’t about the individual so much as the part that the individual plays in their environment and the contribution that they make.

But the other lesson here is a leadership one. Recognition is a powerful reward: I got a nice glow from someone remembering and saying so. Why not thank someone today, and maybe your legacy will be to be remembered as a nice person. I’d settle for that.

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