Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The Jefferson Tombstone Exercise
In my executive coaching practice, I used to ask executives what was important to them in life or what was their vision…things like that. Often, they would look at me with a kind of a deer-in-the-headlights look or a “say what?” look. Over time, I’ve come now to ask them the tombstone question. I got the idea from Thomas Jefferson (and since then I’ve heard it used by a number of others).
Jefferson wanted to be remembered for three specific achievement in his life—even though he served as president and US minister to France. Thus, he designed his own tombstone and wrote his own inscription, which reads that Thomas Jefferson was "author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia" and, as he requested, "not a word more."
I simply ask each of my executive clients very early on in our coaching engagement to list the 3-5 things that she or he wants to be remembered for in each of their lives. In short, if people got up at a funeral to speak words about you, what would you want them to say? This a powerful exercise to help leaders fast forward to the big things in their lives. Simply put, at the end of it all what was central to your life? Give this a try if you really want goals to shoot for that have meaning to you and the world.