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Your Leadership Legacy: Live It Now

Forget about leaving your legacy. Here is a story to inspire you to live it, starting now.
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Inheritance is what we leave to others. Legacy is what we leave in them. Here is my favorite, true story of living and leaving a legacy.

In the early 1900s, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for entangling the Windy City in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good at what he did. In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. Capone paid him very well, and Eddie and lived in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large it filled a Chicago city block.

Eddie enjoyed the high life and gave little consideration to the serious wrongdoings that went on around him, but he did have one soft spot. He had a son he loved dearly, and saw to it that he had the best of everything--clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld and price was no object.

Despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach his son right from wrong. Eddie wanted him to be a better man than he was. Yet with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son: he couldn’t pass on a good name and he couldn’t set a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Wanting to rectify wrongs he had done, he decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against the Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. But he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street, but in his eyes he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could pay.

Fast forward to World War II, a war that produced many heroes, one of whom was Lt. Cmdr. Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

One day, his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized he would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding their way toward the American fleet.

The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet, nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert the oncoming aircraft. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50-calibers blazed as he attacked one surprised enemy plane after another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired until all his ammunition was spent.

Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many of them as possible. Finally, the remnants of the Japanese squadron fled in another direction.

Butch O'Hare made it back to the carrier, where he reported the event. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane showed the extent of his daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. For his actions Butch became the Navy's first Ace of WWII and the first Naval aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His hometown would not allow the memory of this WWII hero fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So what do these two stories have to do with each other? Butch O'Hare was Easy Eddie's son.

The life we live today affects the generations to come. We were meant to give away our lives, so focus on living your legacy instead of worrying about leaving your legacy. If you do, you will define yourself and others by an inspired life.

One of the most joyful moments for leaders is to pass the baton to someone they have invested in, and then see their values reflected in the new leader. Just like Butch O'Hare.

Who is the next future leader you are inspiring today?

Last updated: Dec 5, 2013

LEE COLAN | Columnist

LEE COLAN is founder of The L Group, a consulting firm that equips and inspires leaders at every level. He is a leadership advisor, presenter of practical ideas, and a Thinkers 50 nominee for Top Management Thinker.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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