Our history is about our accomplishments; Our legacy is about our impact
“Our history is about our accomplishments; our legacy is about our impact.” I’m not sure in my lifetime there will ever be a greater example of understanding and appreciating that difference than the recent passing of Arnold Palmer! While he certainly will be remembered for his contributions to the game of golf, it was not until he started becoming successful in the late 50’s and 60’s that golf really took off. His contributions to golf were more than his 26 amateur wins, or his 95 victories and seven major championships as a PGA professional. And while he was not the greatest to ever play the game (compared to Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods) he will always be spoken in the same sentence as Old Tom Morris and Bobby Jones! He was dubbed the King and wore that crown with distinction and humility.
Everyone has a favorite Arnold Palmer story. Mine took place at the Senior PGA event played at NCR Country Club several years ago. My friend Gene Hallman from Birmingham, Alabama reached out to me before the tournament, and he enlisted me to both introduce Arnold Palmer to the community as well as assist him during the event. He had asked me to help with player relations since I knew a number of the senior players from both the Bruno’s event in Birmingham, which the Berry Company and BellSouth were cosponsors, and the Bell South Senior event in Nashville.
I was assigned to help the players with registration and get them to the locker room upon their arrival. While many of the professionals were not easily recognizable, there was great anticipation for the arrival of both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. When Jack arrived along with his wife Barbara they were very pleasant (at least Barbara) and congenial to volunteers in the room. Once they signed in I escorted Jack to the locker room. He acknowledged a few of the PGA professionals when we arrived at the locker room and I returned to registration. About an hour later, Arnold arrived and I can best describe it as “he lit the room up.” He took the time to introduce himself to every volunteer in the room (20 or so) and thanked them for volunteering to make the tournament a positive experience for both he and his fellow PGA professionals (there is no doubt that if we had had selfies back then Arnold would have been there another 20 minutes taking pictures)! When he finished registering, I escorted him to the locker room. When we entered, where a number of professionals were having lunch, every one stood up and introduced themselves to Arnold. When we turned the corner to enter the locker room, a receiving line had formed of not only other PGA golfers but agents, tour officials and everyone present. I stood and watched as he shook hands and took time with every person, some he knew and others he did not!
The morale of the story is that while Nicklaus and Palmer will always be spoken in the same breath as two of golf’s greatest, that experience reminded me that while Nicklaus will be remembered for his history of accomplishments, Palmer will be for the impact he made in people’s lives. Webster’s definition of legacy, “as a lasting contribution from a person, conceived as a testament to their honor”, was best described by his close friend Nicklaus when he said, “Arnold’s legacy is that people followed him, people adored him. He was the most popular person to ever play the game.”
As I have written so often in the past, there are leaders that lead because that is what they do and there are leaders that lead because that is who they are. There are three distinctions that separate the two. First, they possess the courage and character to lead others because its core to their existence. Secondly, leadership is not just something they do from eight to five, and it is not a title or a designation. It permeates every aspect of their lives; as parents, teachers, coaches, volunteers, friend, siblings, spouses, and friends. Finally, and most importantly, they value their lives as leaders by making a difference in other people’s lives!
How will you be remembered? For your history of accomplishments or your legacy of making a difference in other people’s lives?