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The Leadership Legacy

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Thoughts on How We Got Here

As an industry veteran and charter member of MPI, I have witnessed the meetings and tradeshow industry grow in both size and influence.

Forty plus years ago, when a group of us sat around late one night at something called the World Meeting Planner’s Congress at the O’Hare Hyatt, we talked about the need for ways to help us grow. And share. AND connect!  

As an aside, talk about a group of optimists – I think there were about 16 of us and it was called WORLD Meeting Planners Congress.

Our life’s work wasn’t recognized and education materials didn’t exist.  In the past four decades, so very many individuals have shared their time and talent to bring about the evolution of our industry.  That’s a legacy!

Why is it important to talk about the past and how we got to where we are today – as individuals and as an industry? 

           We can learn from & build on the Legacy left by those who came before us

•           It can motivate each of you to focus on the legacy you want to create

•           It can help you identify the values you want to portray

Let’s start with some dictionary definitions:

LEADERSHIP: “a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.; the time when a person holds the position of leader; the power or ability to lead other people.” 

LEGACY: “Something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.”  I would modify that to say “someone in the past or the present.  .  .”  In our world, many of the legacy makers are still with us and still active.  Thus the expression “A Living Legacy”.

Here’s another perspective that I think gives context to the notion of our responsibilities to each other and to our life’s chosen work.  Sir Francis Bacon was an English writer and philosopher in the 16th & 17th century.  Look at what he said (forgive the sexism of his times): “I hold every man a debtor to his profession . . .”  I hold every man a debtor to his profession.   I translate that to: every person has an obligation to give back.  I see that as our legacy.  A leadership legacy.

Without getting political, we can all agree on world leaders that have left a legacy.  In recent times, a partial list includes, in alphabetic order, Jefferson, Lincoln, Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa.  I could go on and on.  How about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?  They have changed billions of lives.  And their legacies are still growing.

I have survived and even thrived a bit in this business in part because I was able to sit at the feet of leaders who were willing to share.  And, old though I am, I still get inspiration and guidance from some of these people as well as the younger leaders.

One leadership legacy contributor was the late Jim Jones.  Jimmy was the director of meetings at Connecticut General Life Insurance Company.  Among other things, he was a founder of MPI, ICP (now the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners - FICP) & SCMP – the Society of Company Meeting Planners. A few years ago, when I heard that he died, I immediately remembered two things I learned from him. One big picture, strategic and one very tactical.  Here they are, as I remember them:

(1)  Always remember the difference between personal power and positional power.  We may have a lot of
       power in our position, but the real test of a professional is their personal power.

(2)   Always have them cut the Danish in half (some of  you may remember the huge Danish served by
       hotels and convention centers); 

2)   Jim Jones left a legacy to those of us who followed him.

Then there are other, more personal legacies.  I think being passionate about what you do and doing it the right way is what attracts a son or daughter to follow in their parent’s career footsteps.  What greater legacy?  And I am proud to say that my son, Warren Abraham, followed me into this industry and is now a Vice President of audio visual giant PSAV.  In his early days, he was asked “are you related to Rod Abraham?”  Now I get:  “are you related to Warren Abraham?”  I get great pleasure in that. Forgive the personal reference but I consider that one of my legacies and I am darn proud of it.  

I have had (and continue to have) the benefit of a hall of fame group who have been strong influencers of my professional life.  Living leadership legacies, indeed!

But for any of us to be receptive to the influence of another, we have to have the right outlook.  To me, the foundation of the right outlook is the ability to distinguish right from wrong and the shades of gray - ethics in its basest form.  Remember, how we conduct our life’s work can also create a negative legacy.  If we do not conduct our business lives in a professional, ethical manner, not only are we misbehaving but we are also sending a message to those who look up to us that misbehaving is okay. 

I am optimistic about our future when I see the efforts of new leadership stewards like David DuBois at the helm of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. The young professionals of this and the next generation - including some of you reading this - will take our industry in new ways and to new places we cannot even imagine. 

So, have you thought about your legacy? Don’t be afraid to awaken your passion and to share it with others because you never know whose interest you will pique and whose life you may change.

In the 17th century Francis Bacon said: “I hold every man a debtor to his profession”.  In the 20th & 21st century Rod Abraham says: “Every person has a responsibility to give back.  And the more you give, the more you get.” Leave your legacy by stepping up and assuming leadership!

©  2014 by Rod Abraham