Leaving a Legacy Versus Being a Legacy

Leaving a Legacy Versus Being a Legacy


This week, I was briefing the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Associate Director in preparation for NASA’s Strategic Information Technology (IT) Investment Board Meeting.  We were looking at business cases for some of our IT Investments. When we saw a few referred to as legacy systems, the definition was not clear in this particular context.  I really wanted to tell her it meant “too old to change” – but I didn’t have the heart to say that.  Ironically, this week I also attended a session sponsored by the American Council for Technology called “Building a Public Service Legacy”.  This is a discussion series where senior government and industry IT leaders share their experiences with government professionals who are early in their career.  I was heartened to hear this month’s speaker, Dr. Renny DiPentima, former CIO and Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


I knew of him over the years and was very familiar with his achievements.  What I didn’t know and learned this week, was a bit more about his legacy.   His leadership and insight helped shape the current role of the Federal CIO.  He shared the story of his first day as a civil servant, starting off as a GS-5 Clerk. I imagined him walking into a New York City office without air conditioning on a blistering summer day – hot, wide-eyed, optimistic, and determined to leave a legacy.


I was reminded of some thoughts offered by John C. Maxwell in his “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”.  The Law of Legacy, law number 21, was, as he noted, one of the most important laws of leadership.  However, it is one of the laws that fewest leaders seem to learn.  He goes on to say,


“Achievement comes to someone when he is able to do great things for himself. Success comes when he empowers followers to do great things with him.  But a legacy is created only when a person puts his organization into the position to do great things without him.”


Being a CIO these days is no doubt a tough gig.  But, the lasting value of a CIO will not be in what she achieves, but in what she leaves behind.