If you’ve spent any amount of time in executive retreats or leadership offsites, you’ve probably been asked to participate in a familiar evaluation of your career and impact. “Take twenty minutes,” a facilitator will say, “and write your professional obituary. What legacy did you leave? What contribution did you make? What might colleagues remember about you?”
At one level, it’s a strange (and slightly morbid) exercise. At another level, it serves a worthwhile purpose—encouraging leaders to see themselves the way their colleagues see them, to evaluate their long-term impact from the perspective of the people who feel that impact. One of the most revealing ways to reflect on how you’re living your professional life is to reckon honestly with how you might be remembered when you are gone.
Well, what goes for individuals goes for organizations, too. That’s why I’ve begun to encourage senior leaders of companies, executives who run business units or departments, even mid-level managers who are responsible for a specific brand, to step back and take time (probably much longer than twenty minutes) and write their organization’s obituary. What legacy did your company leave in its industry? What contributions did your business unit make to your company? How did your brand move the needle in a market category? To clarify your company’s future, it helps to step back and imagine a world in which it does not exist.