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How do You Want to be Remembered?
People remember extremes—good or bad, visionary or clueless. Which are you?
by Julia Kramer

We all want to be remembered. We want to be remembered by colleagues after we leave a job, by teammates after we hang up our uniform, and by loved ones after we depart this earth. Some want to be remembered for their positive qualities and the good they do in the world. Others don’t care what people remember—positive or negative—they just don’t want to be forgotten.

So what makes a person unforgettable? Think about Ted Bundy, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sarah Palin. These famous names conjure immediate associations, favorable or not. Neither one is soon to be forgotten.

You don’t have to be famous to be unforgettable. If you don’t believe me, think about those in your professional past that you remember most vividly. I’ll never forget one manager and his indiscriminate use of racial slurs and ethnic stereotypes or the colleague who helped shine my star even though we worked in a very competitive environment or the senior executive who created a compensation system that put him last on the list for bonuses.

How will you be remembered? Think before you answer. Every positive quality has an equally negative interpretation. Take a look at the following extremes and craft a plan to become a more positive, unforgettable you.

Visionary or out of touch with reality? We want our leaders to be visionary, and we want our employees to be innovative. We agree with Henry David Thoreau, who said, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.” Without imagination and inquisitiveness about the vast range of possibilities, everything but what we are currently doing becomes an impossibility.

But imagination has to be tempered, at some point, by realistic expectations and an examination of resources. If your ideas and initiatives are well received, eagerly listened to and seriously considered for implementation, then you’re probably on the right track. You will be remembered for your creativity and forward-thinking. On the other hand, if your plan for a new path you’d like to explore is met with an absence of enthusiasm—or even contempt, inaction or avoidance—then you may need to inject a dose of the concrete into your idea.

Strong leader or controlling egomaniac? There is sometimes a fine line between a confident and forceful leader and a self-serving know-it-all. It could be that the determination is in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes not. Ask yourself the following five questions:

1. Do you almost always think your way is the best way?

2. When you invite others to make suggestions, do you listen with the goal of shooting down their ideas unless they are in line with your own?

3. Do you say “I have an idea. Here’s what we’re going to do” more than “I have an idea. Tell me what you think of it?”

4. Do you think you are smarter and quicker than everyone else?

5. Do you look at your staff and think, “There’s no one here who could ever fill my shoes?”

If you answered yes to all of the above, you might want to let go of your ego so you can be remembered as the capable and motivational leader you strive to be.

Funny or offensive? Laughter is the best medicine when it comes to reducing workplace stress. We enjoy the break from the seriousness of getting the job done and enjoy hearing others laugh around the office. It’s healthy, and it lifts everyone’s spirits. Unfortunately, figuring out what’s funny is a challenge for some. Common wisdom tells us not to make comments or exhibit behavior that could be offensive to others. That can be a tall order, as some people cover up negative feelings out of fear or confusion. Sometimes telling off-color jokes, poking fun at others or making sexual innuendoes results in legal action, but that’s another story. More commonly, this behavior degrades the respect people have for you. They might think you are completely clueless or not very bright or that you just don’t care how others feel. Be careful. If your legacy is one of offensive jokes, you run the risk of being remembered as the office clown.

There are few things in life more satisfying than knowing you’ve made a lasting impression on others. To ensure that the impression you make is in line with your intentions, take the time to examine your methods and the results of your behaviors. Otherwise, when people think “Unforgettable, that’s what you are,” it may not be what you had in mind.


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