Leave a Legacy

How will you be remembered?

by Russell T. Westcott

In many management development programs, an instructor assigns this task: Write a brief eulogy summarizing what you think a business associate would say about you. Questions to consider include:

  • What impact have you strived to make in the world?
  • How has the impact been noted?
  • Who has benefited from your efforts?
  • What remains to be done?
  • What impression have you left?

In 1989, Joseph Juran delivered this eulogy following Kaoru Ishikawa’s death:

"There is so much to be learned by studying how Dr. Ishikawa managed to accomplish so much during a single lifetime. In my observation, he did so by applying his natural gifts in an exemplary way. He was dedicated to serving society rather than serving himself. His manner was modest, and this elicited the cooperation of others. He followed his own teachings by securing facts and subjecting them to rigorous analysis. He was completely sincere, and as a result was trusted completely."1

While most of us may never reach the level of Ishikawa and Juran’s accomplishment, all of us consider the mark we’re leaving.

Years ago, after a lengthy discussion of what I did at work, my father asked me, "How important is all that? What difference does what you do make?" As I stumbled through a reply, I realized my answer was wholly inadequate and meaningless to an outside listener.

How would you have answered those questions? Take 10 to 15 minutes and sketch out your eulogy. Does it adequately summarize your business life? What changes should you make on your life’s journey?

Elevator speech

Another exercise I often use as a networking tool for people who are changing careers and searching for employment is the elevator speech. The supposition is that you get into an elevator at the top floor in a tall building and a stranger asks what you do. You have the time it takes for the elevator to reach the ground floor—assuming no stops at interim floors—to answer. Draft your elevator speech in five minutes.

The proof of the speech’s clarity will come when you test it with a colleague. Watch his or her body language. Is the person exhibiting confusion, lack of interest or disagreement? The objective is to convey meaningful information that will generate mutual interest and aid you both in determining whether a follow-up conversation at a later time would be useful. You can effectively use this same speech when you network with business people in a social setting.

These exercises aren’t meant to stimulate morbid thoughts about dying. Rather, they are meant to get you thinking about how you can better apply your knowledge, experience, skills and attitude. We must realize we are all an entity within a global system in which what we do, how we do it and to whom we do it affects other inhabitants of this world.

Time to give back

Readers, it’s payback time. Emerge and find a way to give back. Be thankful for the job you may still have, your family, the freedoms you enjoy, your health, your friends and those who buy the products or services you help produce.

Within this vast system, thousands of communities of interest exist, some formal and some informal. One community of interest, to which most of the readership of this publication belongs, is ASQ. And, depending on your type of membership, most members belong to a local section.

My section has about 100 members. In spite of years of effort, the entire work of managing and supporting the section falls on 10 to 12 members. Even though about 10% of the section’s membership attends meetings, those members primarily take from, rather than give to, the association. For those members who remain in the shadows, is this how you wish to be remembered?

In today’s "what’s in it for me" environment, we tend to forget the "and you." I attribute much of the success I’ve enjoyed to these two axioms:

  1. Strive to make your work important and helpful for others.
  2. Always deliver more than what you are paid for.

How will you be remembered? Think about it. Vow to make some positive changes on your journey through life. Don’t just sit there. Do something useful for others—regardless of whether you’re getting paid for it.


  1. Ken Stephens, ed., The Best on Quality, Vol. 13, ASQ Quality Press, 2002, p. 187.

Russell T. Westcott heads the Offerjost-Westcott Group in Old Saybrook, CT. He is editor of The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, third edition; co-editor of The Quality Improvement Handbook, second edition; and author of Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional: Managing Small & Medium-size Projects. Westcott, an ASQ Fellow, is a certified quality auditor and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE). He is also an instructor for ASQ’s CMQ/OE refresher course.

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