I suspect that we are not the only ones he treats this way. He is leaving a legacy, but it may not be the one he hoped for.

I talked with one of my partners about how things had gone. He felt good about the impact we had had on the couple, regardless of the business outcome. Because, in any case, we had helped create a service legacy. I am sure that as a consultant, the client provided help and support for his own clients. They may have a different view of him than I do.

We had a much different experience with a retired CEO client who made an incredible impact on us in a family meeting.

This client had a blended family (he and his wife both came into their marriage with children). The children were adults (with whom we also worked) and we felt it was time to have a family meeting about a few different items, one of which was the family cabin (or compound). As the parents were aging, it was apparent that the cabin was primarily the love of the CEO, a love unshared by the rest of his family. They enjoyed it, but mostly because it made him happy. In the estate plan, a trust had to be established to fund the operating costs of the compound. We met with the parents first and asked whether they wanted to compel the kids to keep it. After a lengthy discussion, we settled on the point that the kids should do whatever they wanted with the compound once the parents passed.

We had a family meeting and the kids talked about the great memories they had and how much they appreciated the compound as a part of their lives and their own kids’ lives. But when the father gave permission for them to do what they wanted after he passed, there was a palpable easing of tension in the room. The legacy that these parents provided was in part the lasting memories from the cabin, but more important, it was also a legacy of listening to their children and seeing them as adults.

Many times, legacy comes up in relationship to philanthropy. Clients wish to do something at the end of their lives in ways that memorialize them. But a name on a building is simply that. It doesn’t reflect a life lived. By expanding the concept of generosity, clients can have far greater impact. Generosity involves all our actions—are we generous listeners, mentors, followers, leaders?

We often encourage clients to give money philanthropically as a way to help them create a better relationship to their money. Clients who don’t feel as though they can afford to give money away (even in relatively small increments) have allowed money to have a power over them that may be stifling. I recently talked with a former co-worker who left our firm almost 10 years ago. He still remembers a client interaction we had at the height of the 2008-2009 market correction. Some clients came in scared about what was happening in the markets and wondered what to do. My advice at the time, based on my understanding of them, was that they should give some of their money away. While they were frightened about what could happen with their portfolio, they were going to be fine—while other people at that time were going to be less so. They thought a bit about this and decided it was a good plan. And in following it, they felt better about what they had. My former co-worker said he was now offering this counsel in his own practice.

If clients want their legacy to be about charity, it makes sense to be charitable, to others as well as to causes. By giving time in addition to money, by seeing people for who they are rather than who we want or expect them to be, by subverting our egos in order for others to develop, we can have huge impact.

When clients get stuck in thinking that there is only one path or one way to do things, it reduces their ability to have impact. If we can show them multiple scenarios, we can help them get comfortable with a variety of potential outcomes, making them feel safer.

Our legacy is an accumulation of all of our moments. It changes through every person we meet and every interaction we have. We are always rewriting it, but never fully controlling it. By being aware of our impact, we can make many small differences that are everlasting.