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Leave a great business and personal legacy.

Imagine waking up one morning and reading your own obituary. That’s what happened to Swedish chemist, Alfred Nobel in 1888 following the death of his brother, Ludvig. A French newspaper erroneously ran an obituary for Alfred (in lieu of Ludvig) which called him “The merchant of death”.

Alfred invented dynamite and his (premature) obituary bluntly stated: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday”. Not wanting to go down in history with such a horrible epitaph, Alfred Nobel set about improving his public image.

Nobel decided to bequeath most of the vast fortune he made from inventing dynamite to posthumously institute what became known as the Nobel Prizes. These prizes are awarded annually for eminence in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.

Alfred Nobel wanted to leave a positive legacy – as each of us can – and others have done. Mahatma Gandhi was an icon against oppression, Mother Teresa championed the plight of the poor, Sir Edmund Hillary was a legend in mountaineering and Margaret Thatcher is remembered as the Iron Lady of politics.

What mark will you leave on the world? Will the world be a better place because you were here? What do you want your obituary to say? These are meaty and important questions. We can all ensure our life counts by making conscious choices about the way we live our life, every day.

Parents leave an important legacy as their children make a mark on future generations. Parents are leaders and the prime responsibility of any parent is to be an effective role model. Similarly, business and political leaders must also be effective role models if they are to leave a positive legacy.

Success in business leadership is not measured only in numbers. Great leaders leave an organisational legacy that transcends them and goes beyond fond memories. It is said that an executive’s legacy is linked to his/her reputation for things like hard work, honesty and integrity.

While that is true, I believe there is one overarching characteristic of every great leader – emotional intelligence. In my early career, I had the good fortune of working under some bright and intelligent CEOs. While all were high in IQ, at least one was sadly lacking in EQ – emotional intelligence.

Being smart in the classic sense does not mean you make good decisions. Leaders with low EQ are more inclined to do things for personal gain as was the case with the former executives of Enron. Conversely, leaders with strong EQ, invariably do what is best for the organisation and not themselves.

Without even necessarily knowing it, great leaders practise “Servant Leadership”. Good leaders are humble, they help others succeed and they serve rather than rule.

A great leadership legacy, therefore, revolves around the idea of selflessness. According to Jim Collins, author of the bestselling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and others Don’t, “the best leaders blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will”.

Collins argues that great corporate leaders are “self-effacing individuals” who are a study in duality – “modest and wilful, humble and fearless”. The good-to-great leaders “never want to become larger-than-life-heroes” and are “seemingly ordinary people producing extraordinary results”. The same is true for the political and charitable world; just look at Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Mary MacKillop as examples of Servant Leadership.

On the current world stage, Pope Francis is a living example of Servant Leadership, telling his Cardinals shortly after his election as Pontiff in 2013 that the Church “needs more servants of the people rather than Princes of the Church.”

In summary then, a great business leader is highly ambitious for the success of his/her company. He/she wants the organisation to succeed irrespective of his/her presence at the helm. The bottom-line message for all CEOs and business owners is, that without a vision for the future greater than your own needs, your business legacy will never be great.

Now that something both your IQ and EQ can think about!

John (JT) Thomas

This opinion piece is provided by John (JT) Thomas, a 46-year veteran of the financial services industry and since 1987 a specialist in commercial mortgage funds. Considered by many to be the father of the modern commercial mortgage fund sector, JT helped establish and then managed – for 17 years – what became the largest and most successful commercial mortgage fund in Australia – The Howard Mortgage Trust – with assets exceeding $3 billion. Under JT’s stewardship, investors never lost one cent of their investments and indeed, investors always received competitive monthly returns. JT was also Chair of the $40 billion mortgage trust industry sector working group.

JT has been proudly involved with Princeton for eight years and sits on both the Princeton Credit Committee and the Princeton Compliance Committee as well as being an advisor to the Princeton Board.

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