How do you want to be remembered?
People remember the extremes—whether good or bad,
visionary or clueless. Which are you?
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
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
- Do you almost always think your way is the best way?
- 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?
- 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?”
- Do you think you are smarter and quicker than everyone
- 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
Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office
of the President.