Empires vs. Legacies
Throughout history men have wielded power for the sake of building. Noah built an ark. The people of the world built the Tower of Babel. Even as they dispersed throughout the planet, they began to build cities. From the Great Wall of China to Los Angeles, from Leningrad to Johannesburg, men create as they were created. We have also seen the rise and fall of great empires, that stretch beyond cities and even provinces to encompass massive swaths of the planet. Egyptians, Mongols, Israelis, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Prussians, Francs, the British, and in the last century Germans, Americans, and the list goes on of men trying to build empires. Today we see men growing corporate empires that rival any nation state and affect as much of the globe as any one nation ever has.
Yet, when retracing the steps of all of these grand conquests, we often find that in the effort to build an empire in which they believed, leaders lives were often riddled with moral failures and inconsistencies that caused the same great empires to fall only a few generations after their great leader was gone. Even in the histories of the few empires that were able to sustain power for a few hundred years, are plagued with stories of civil unrest and dysfunction, usually within the walls of the home of the leaders themselves.
Today, I hear story after story of new empires that are rising all around us, but also hear the stories of the same kind of unrest. Some of these empires are larger than others, and some are more broken, but all of them beg the question, “What is the difference between an empire and a legacy?”
An empire is vast and far reaching in its breadth, but a legacy is vast and far reaching in its length. As an example, allow me to show you two men who currently sit atop vast corporate empires, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Both men started from virtually nothing and built their empires by helping to usher in the age of information, a time when what you can know grows exponentially ever minute.
Depending on who you ask, some claim Bill Gates has some questionable beginnings. Jeff Bezos has recently, at the time of this writing, gone through a public divorce. When history is written, what it will say of these two men is yet to be determined, but I see a trend that has continued throughout history that may determine what their legacies will be.
After leading Microsoft to become one of the greatest corporate influencers on the planet, Bill Gates stepped back from the public limelight to care for his family. Then he created the Bill Gates foundation with his wife. Together they have spent billions of dollars to help bring water to the thirsty, medicine to the sick, and create avenues of success for others. When history records Bill Gates’ empire they will show his leadership bringing computer technology to billions, but his legacy will be recorded for generations in the millions of lives that will be saved by his efforts to bring good to our world. His marriage might be his greatest legacy. Melinda Gates is the force behind the Gates foundation, but she also says that the strength of the marriage is found in doing dishes together after the evening meal. (Inside the Marriage of Bill and Melinda Gates 2019)
I wonder if Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will leave such a legacy. They shared many of the same habits as the Gates family. Breakfast with family, Jeff doing the dishes. Still their marriage didn’t last.
Why do some “Empire Builders” have marriages that last, while others cannot seem to sustain the strain of growth outside the home?
To be fair, I do not know these couples and their private lives. I only know what I read in news journals and tabloids, but I do know many great leaders, who cannot seem to maintain their businesses and their marriages, and I wonder how I can help.
I have found in my own efforts to grow a business the strain can be rigorous at times. The fight to move forward, and the fight to keep a family together are both hard fought and fighting a war on two fronts is difficult if not impossible.
With so many corporate executives today, as well as upcoming entrepreneurs, wanting to leave a legacy, I believe we must learn to fight on the home front first. We must learn the skills and choices that allow us to grow emotionally healthy children and maintain a strong marriage.
I believe if we can make these choices work in the homes of leaders, they will work in the empires. I believe that if we learn to choose relationship, we will find that our legacies far out last our empires.
Are you building an empire or a legacy today?