How Do I Want To Be Remembered?
The 21st Century is an era of the brain
One of the Nobel Prizes given out in 2014 was to a group of three scientists—Dr John O’Keefe, Dr May-Britt Moser and Dr Edvard I Moser— for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain. As someone who is fascinated by the brain and leadership, I am always excited about progress made to understand this amazing organ.
Perception as catalyst
The news also brought back a story of the Prize’s founder, Alfred Nobel – a man who earned his wealth by inventing and manufacturing dynamite, an explosive made of nitroglycerin, which he patented in 1867.
“How would you want people to think of you when you’re no longer here?”
In 1888, Alfred’s brother, Ludvig Nobel, passed away. However, word got out that it was Alfred who died. Numerous articles were written to recount his biography instead of his brother’s.
Unsurprisingly, people’s perception of Alfred was extremely negative. He was portrayed as a cruel man – the ‘merchant of death’ wrote a French newspaper. One piece even stated that “Alfred garnered his wealth from inventing a tool that rips away people’s lives” and that the world had become a better place with him now gone.
The living Nobel, given a unique opportunity to read how he would have been remembered, was devastated. Alfred then resolved to change his legacy to the world.
During one of my coaching sessions, a telecom executive said “I don’t really need anything else in my life. I’ve made it quite far. My kids are all grown up. I only have a couple of years left before retirement. I don’t want to do anything more… it’s tiring,” she said lethargically.
“How would you want people to think of you when you’re no longer here?” I asked her. She took a long pause before replying “I would want them to remember the good things I’ve done. How I had made a difference.”
We spent the rest of our sessions on planning what needed to be done to accomplish that goal. Actions were identified to maximise probability of later generations ‘remembering’ her the way she wanted.
Purpose and value
I do not often write about my dad but this introspection brought back memories of him. When I was six years old, my father was appointed to the top position for a government official – as Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. He was also the youngest one ever at the age of 49.
When teased that he seemed ‘rather humdrum’ about the promotion – perhaps because prior to that, he had served as Deputy Minister, a perceived superior position— my father replied:
“I do not think that a man’s worth is measured by his position. Being a Minister does not mean more honour and respect than any other occupations. There may have been a time that I, coincidentally, served as a Deputy Minister. But never in my mind have I thought of Permanent Secretary as inferior to Deputy Minister. The only important question is how much people remember our good deeds when we’re gone. If you were a Minister but you left people full of curses, where is the honour in that?”
Dr. Thalerng Thamrongnawasawat
20th Jan 1980
Despite our father having been a high-ranking official for several years, our family was never surrounded by wealth. What I and my siblings do take great pride in, however, are the values and purpose our father had left for us.
A great purpose does not necessarily mean grand achievements. A great purpose is something that is ‘greater than yourself’.
My little sister, now a Chief Marketing Officer at a public company in Thailand, once turned down a high-profile customer because “the executive wanted USD$5,000 as a ‘liaison’ fee”.
She then gave a reason that made me so proud of her : “I’m his daughter. Dad’s children do not do that.”
Insights for leaders
If you aspire to be a great leader, then you need a great purpose. A great purpose does not necessarily mean grand achievements. A great purpose is something that is ‘greater than yourself’.
When you lead people with reason, you get only a fraction of their forebrain energy. If you merely entice your people with monetary rewards, then they will leave you the moment someone else offers more. But when you lead people with great values and purpose, you will unleash the infinite potential of their hindbrain. You will get their pride, dedication, devotion and love. This energy is boundless because it bears no reason.
If you are unclear, my advice is to pause and ask yourself “How do I want to be remembered?”
Alfred Nobel decided to dedicate all his wealth into establishing the Nobel Prize. Annual recipients are scientists who have made ‘outstanding contributions for humanity’. Winners receive research funding of approximately USD$1 Million – a process that has been ongoing for 116 years.
If we were to walk up to a stranger on the streets and ask him who Alfred Nobel was, chances are the answer is a great philanthropist behind the Nobel Prize. Very few, if any, would remember Alfred as the creator of a lethal weapon. Nobel changed his will in 1895. He died in 1896.
Some people… came from the light and left into the light.
Others… came from the dark and went back to the dark.
Sadly… many came from the light but chose to leave in the dark.
People who inspire… came from the dark but rose away to the light.
A Buddhist Proverb
How do YOU want to be remembered?
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#purpose #value #legacy #HR