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Here is an excerpt from Lee’s latest book, Leadership Matters. It contains 31 daily insights to inspire extraordinary results.

day 20: Legacy

Inheritance is what we leave to others. Legacy is what we leave in them.

Here is one of my favorite, true stories of really 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. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well.

Not only was the money big, but Eddie also got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large it filled an entire Chicago city block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob 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 Eddie saw to it that his young son 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 Al “Scarface” 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. So 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 would ever pay.

Now, let’s fast forward to World War II, a war that produced many heroes. One such man 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 that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. 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 them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 calibers blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault.

He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on Feb. 20, 1942, and for that action 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 the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, think about visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor.

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 any leader is to pass the baton to someone we have invested in, and then see our values reflected in the new leader … just like Butch O’Hare.

Action Questions:

1.What legacy do I want to leave my team?

2. What am I doing today to positively affect someone’s life, not just their work?

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
– Kahlil Gibran

Copyright © 2012 by Lee J. Colan and The L Group, Inc.