In Order To Get Better And Move Forward, We Should Eulogize More People

Leadership Lesson: Getting in the habit of telling others what you think about them (before it’s too late) can provide a sense of fulfillment in yourself, along with both confirmation and encouragement in them about the value of what they’re doing, who they are, and how they impact you.

No, this isn’t some veiled attempt at convincing you to take out the competition in order to get ahead.

And no, it’s not some kind of morbid wish for you and your friends, family, and colleagues.

If anything, it’s a request that you do more for each other and make each other stronger – by acknowledging each other.

Related: Your Leadership Wake: As A
Leader, How Do You Acknowledge Others?

But let’s kick it up a notch here, above the usual everyday high-fives of approval and acknowledgement. We all need to get to writing, creating, and expressing (more) eulogies!

(And still I sound like some kind of hit man looking for work.)

In order for me to clarify, let’s look at the definition of Eulogy:

1 : A speech or piece of writing that praises someone or
something highly, typically someone who has died.
2 : high praise

A eulogy is all about sharing and outlining what it is that makes a person who they are/were, and what everyone they knew enjoyed about them. In our usual day-to-day interactions, we might share and experience isolated compliments and encouragement here and there. In a eulogy, though, you find a well-thought-out listing of admirable attributes telling the tale and painting the picture of the complete person.

So, for the purposes of what I’m trying to convey here, let’s forget the “died” part and focus on the high praise portion of the message – the accolade, tribute, and testimonial.

It’s amazing that, yes, typically, we do this for people in such a condensed and thorough form only when they’re already gone (read: dead)!

But, when possible, applicable, and appropriate, we should instead let the subject of the praise know our opinions and thoughts while they’re still here. We should tell them what we think of them and everything they are and mean to us. We should outline how much respect and reverence we have for them.

Here are three stories to drive that message home.

My writing this post came out of a conversation over a farewell lunch I had with a colleague whom I’ve grown to respect and cherish and who has come to be a dear friend over the last 5 years of our having worked together.

This is the first story.

Having landed a new job, they’re moving on to a new professional pasture for themselves. And when I heard they were leaving, it hit me like a ton of bricks: This is a devastating loss for the institution.

This is a person who espoused so much of what I believe a great business leader is. They are hard-working, respectful, detail-oriented, coordinated, a provider of great praise and appreciation. They also have a work-hard//play-hard mentality, calling out what needs to get done with their game face on, while also being the first one to smile, laugh, and have a great time. Along with all of that, they are one of the greatest cheerleaders for our mission.

In addition to all of that, they know their limits, demonstrating self-awareness by working to improve what they have considered their own shortcomings.

What a balance. What an example.

In that last lunch together, I made sure to tell them as much. They then mentioned how nice the notes were that people had left them as they were getting ready to embark on the new chapter of their journey.

In talking about the overwhelming messages they had received, we agreed that we as a society too often don’t hear how much we impact people. We may get praise and compliments here and there, but never such a thorough outpouring of what we mean to other people and how much of a difference we make in other people’s lives and work.

Related: The Leader’s Legacy: How Do You Determine How History Will Remember Your Name?

We ourselves don’t do that too much for others either. We don’t take that opportunity to eulogize others when it matters most — when we’re together.

We typically do it when it’s too late, leaving that high praise for departures, wakes, obituaries, and funerals.

So that lunch conversation was my indirect call to action to call this out – the need for all of us to let people know what they truly mean to us before they’re gone (whatever “gone” may mean from case to case).

And this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about the importance of eulogies.

A second story has to do with a friend who was enrolled in a mortuary sciences program. Fittingly, as part of one of their courses, they were asked to have someone in their life write a eulogy for them. My friend asked if I would do it, and so I did.

What an amazing experience it is to do that about/for someone and share it with them! As friends since high school, we’ve always appreciated and loved each other and shared with each other so much about ourselves. The respect, admiration, and commitment of friendship has always been there. But there are some truly powerful things you just don’t share with someone until you think – or know – that the end has come or is near, which is the mindset I tried to achieve as I wrote their eulogy.

We both learned so much from that assignment. We both learned what I appreciated about our relationship. The assignment was fulfilling for me in that I broke down what and how I valued that relationship. For them, it was a confirmation of how they believed they wanted to do as a friend and a demonstration of what I appreciated deep down. That brief experiment and exercise brought about an entirely new level of strength to the relationship.

The third and final story that stands out is of someone I knew only for a brief period of time. In the course of forming a new friendship, she shared how lonely she felt that most of her friends, whom she had known for much longer than me, seemed as if they no longer wanted to be around her. Our time as friends came and went. It didn’t end because of some event or occurrence. Our lives just took us in different directions.

Unfortunately, I found out soon thereafter that she had died in a motor vehicle accident.

And as is always the case after a death, people started collecting and congregating to mourn their friend. Traditionally, mourning had always occurred in person; nowadays, with the technology available, it can be both in person and online, and so I was able to read the messages left by her mourners. The messages were powerful with stories of remembrance through which her friends spoke about the fun they had had, how highly they thought of her, and how much they adored and loved her.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned, she felt alone and oftentimes abandoned.

And this is no judgement on her friends. We all lead busy lives and lose track of what we could do for others. I don’t know the details or reasons for those relationship dynamics.

But for our own relationships, that’s why this eulogy exercise is so powerful. It’s about realization. Paying attention. Acknowledging. Expressing.

So, there are three stories. One of someone moving on professionally, one of a hypothetical eulogy, and one of an actual eulogy. They’re three different examples with varying details of circumstance that demonstrate the importance of letting people know when you can what they really mean to you.

In our relationships, whether in work, business, or personal, we tend to talk about things that impact the everyday. But rarely do we speak about our relationships with the depth that underpins a eulogy.

And it doesn’t have to be something formal. It doesn’t have to be written out or delivered in a speech. It can be everyday conversations in which you demonstrate to others how valuable they are to your progress as a person, professional, or worker.

Don’t wait until the end, because who knows what could be unlocked for that person or for the relationship if that person gets real-time appreciation, feedback, and meaning from you today instead of then.

From what they learn from you they can continue pushing forward, empowered, encouraged, and reinforced. They can also continue pushing you forward. So much can come out from someone knowing how well they’re doing.

So, if you were to sit down and eulogize those closest to you, what would you write?

What would you learn?

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