What Did They Say about You at Your Funeral?

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

At one point in The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity, I explore two questions and what it may say about a leader’s ability to self-reflect. The questions are, “What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?” or “What do you want to be inscribed on your headstone?” To answer these questions, I turn to the podcast Executive After Hours and 50-plus C-Suite level executives that are asked these two questions.

The questions provide a window into leaders psyche and how they perceive themselves. So, as the words came out of my mouth, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear if the leader would envision their life in terms of eulogy or résumé virtues (more of this in a second)? It was at these moments when a leader shows their true colors and their ability to self-reflect……..or not.

Back to the eulogy or résumé virtues. David Brooks, a New York Times op-ed columnist, is the author of the book called Road to Character, in which one of the many topics he covers is the concept of résumé versus eulogy virtues. Résumé virtues are the skills that the marketplace desires, while eulogy virtues are the personal attributes talked about at your funeral — virtues like kindness, love, empathy, integrity, joy, loyalty and many more. In essence, this is what occurs in the interviews. What I found surprised me, gave me comfort, and at times frightens me. Below are several excerpts from leaders interviewed. In an aim to hopefully restore your faith in leaders, I share positive, heartwarming responses from several leaders. At the end of each quote, the Executives After Hours episode number is included for your reference.

Dennis Boyle, co-founder, and partner at IDEO said he would like to be remembered with words like these: “Well, he was just good at a lot of things … Good spouse, a good father, a good son, a good brother, a good designer, good teacher. And kind and compassionate and funny and smart… Left a legacy with a bunch of people that loved and admired him and accomplished some unique things … in his work from an innovation standpoint” (episode 99).

James Poer, CEO of Kestra Financial, stated, “I would want my kids to say that they were loved and that I helped make them a better person. I would hope my wife would say that I was a great husband and did well by her and that she felt loved. I would hope that the people that I have spent loads of time within my career would have felt that I made a difference in the industry that I’m in and helped people in their lives to get to the next level to be a better person, to challenge themselves, whatever it may be” (episode 97).

Lisa Buckingham, chief human resources officer for Lincoln Financial, reflected on this question and said, “I made a difference. I made a difference. I want to make others feel how much potential they have. From a tombstone perspective at work, right. Then I was a good mom. A good mom is a really important thing to me. I love my son” (episode 71).

Outside of the pure capitalist, I believe most of us prefer leaders who espouse eulogy virtues. Dennis, James, and Lisa offer a glimpse of how they use eulogy virtues and how they lead. Though to be fair, it is not an either/or situation where a leader can only have résumé or eulogy virtues. The problem arises when the leader puts résumé virtues on the top of the mountain and leaves their eulogy virtues in the valley. There is a deficit created in human connection. Enter the role of a leader’s ability to be self-aware. If you talk to 100 executive coaches, they will tell you that the lack of self-awareness is one of most substantial personal deficits of a leader. It stunts growth and development and limits their ability to incorporate eulogy virtues in their daily life. For me, I try to remember a simple fact. When I get old and sick, who is going to wipe my ass? Pretty sure it is not going to be those I work with, so in a way, living by eulogy virtues is partially out of necessity. The other part is that leaders that give more than take get more than they receive. Ask yourself, what do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Is it résumé building or are the platitudes more in line with being a good human?

Next week’s blog: Out of the crucible = integrity

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