The End Is Key
Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries, a distinguished Professor of Leadership and Development and organizational change, an economist, management expert and a psychoanalyst, takes us through the pathology of the everyday life of a leader and illustrates it so well using the analogy of the rabbit hole. It’s the journey that takes an unexpected fall into a seemingly endless vertical hole with all manner of things along the way that are anything but predictable. It’s a journey not for the faint-hearted but for those that are arm themselves with readiness and a positive mindset. It is a journey that has many casualties of those that enter unprepared, but it is full of triumphant heroes that have been on the journey and emerged victorious and give us the courage to soldier on.
Going by his introduction of what “Down a rabbit hole” means is in itself sobering and scary to anyone with a phobia of falling but its an awakening call to leaders to alive to the myriad of issues to encounter and deal with in leadership, both positive and negative and to realize the very important role of a leader in society. Referring to the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Manfred points to the fact that the leader has enough time even in the free fall to look at these issues and deal with them. In tumbling down the rabbit hole, despite all the nonsensical things that a leader encounters, Manfred takes us on a journey to become enlightened, to find the truth, to understand what is happening around us. As leaders we cannot hide our heads in the sand like the African proverbial ostrich, but we must pay attention because they all affect us as leaders and ultimately, those that we lead as our followers. We are thus invited in the first part of the book to investigate “the Psycho-dynamics of leadership in both business and political context, to project and displace our neuroses into the public sphere”. In the second part, we are invited to focus on “the psychopathology of everyday life in organizations and look at the seemingly endless ways that people can make a mess of things”. It is therefore in navigating through these maddening landscape with understanding that you can be a good leader, gain wisdom, and leave a legacy.
Manfred concludes powerfully by asking us to ask a very critical question, The Epitaph Question. This is cited as the second habit of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people by Dr Stephen Covey, having the end in mind from the beginning. This critical question is, “What you would personally like to be written on your epitaph>” This question helps you to choose the kind of life that you should live today. As he illustrates by the example of one Alfred Nobel who decided to institute the famous Nobel price after reading about his purported death after being mistaken for his brother. The Newspaper article headline, “The Merchant of Death is Dead” was a sobering and harsh awakening of how he would go down in history, its severity made him to rehabilitate his name by changing his will to donate most of his fortune to the Nobel Prize Foundation. His Memory lives on today, bot as a merchant of death but for the better course of the Nobel prize. What will be your Legacy?
As leaders its important to ask how we want to be remembered because thinking of one’s legacy will influence the trajectory of our life. It will influence how we face the myriad of issues that we face in the course of our leadership journey. The essence of making this long-term perspective of your life as a leader is to help you understand what is most important in your life, it helps you have more clarity of what really matters in your life. I personally believe and as Manfred also emphasizes, that positively impacting people’s lives is of higher value that accumulating earthly possessions, it is the true legacy to strive for. This will certainly be a key consideration in pursuing my Dissertation and what I will do with it in future. As Christian Leaders, we have a stewardship responsibility for a Legacy that brings Glory to God.
 Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries (2019). Down The Rabbit Hole Of Leadership: Leadership Pathology In Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan. Cham. Switzerland.
 Lewis carroll (2010). Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. William Collins. Glasgow, Scotland.
 Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries (2019). Down The Rabbit Hole Of Leadership: Leadership Pathology In Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan. Cham. Switzerland. Loc 172, Kindle.
 Stephen Covey. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press. November 9, 2004. Tampa, Florida.
 Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries (2019). Down The Rabbit Hole Of Leadership: Leadership Pathology In Everyday Life. Palgrave Macmillan. Cham. Switzerland…Loc 2722, Kindle.
7 responses to “The End Is Key”
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I found the epitaph question very powerful as well. I was intrigued by the idea Kets de Vries drew out that accepting the inevitability of death, our own and that of others is a blessing and could reduce anxiety. How do you find that looking at your work ‘backward’ shapes it differently? What does a meaningful life look like, both for yourself, but also those you are working so empower? Thanks for your work Wallace!
Thank you Jenn, a life of service to others in obedience to the call Of God in our lives is the most fulfilling life that we can ever live. From Ephesians 4:11, it’s clear that we’re calling to nurture the believers to the prepare for ministry r as 2Timothy 2:2 commissions us to entrust to faithful servants who will in turn do likewise, …keep passing on the button.
Thanks for this post Wallace. I remember one time talking to a world-renowned Evangelical leader about his incredible far reaching influence and the impact he’s made in so many lives, even at the highest levels of government, both national and international. In my admiration, I asked him what plans he had to “preserve” his legacy, since I thought it was an important thing to consider. He gently admonished me and said that he’d like to have nothing to do with that. I knew he was a humble man to begin with, but I didn’t even expect that response from him. In his mind he was just being faithful to the call God placed on him. He didn’t think himself special — even after all he’s accomplished, including authoring many books, spoken before world leaders, etc. He believes the whole legacy thing ought to be left to God. He definitely challenged my thinking on this topic.
Thank you Harry, that’s a great way of thinking. It’s God who works in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure and this is important to have in mind at all times and be humble. Of our own, we can do nothing, the legacy issue would only serve to go before God and cry out to Him to use us to do more. I look at it from the great commission as obedience to the master who wants us to redeem time, for the days are evil. As it were, we’re just unworthy servants and on our own, we can do nothing, except The Lord uses us!
Wallace, I appreciate your discussion of legacy and epitaphs as I believe if we keep the end in mind we can live differently in the in between. The decisions we make and the people we become might have different outcomes if we would do this. Great reminder, thank you.
Like you, I greatly connected with The Epitaph Question.” While I have no illusions of a noteworthy legacy, what we leave for others in the Church should always sit before us. This question reminds us of the brevity of life, what is and is not important, and what truly will last for our loved ones and those we desire to love towards Christ. Thanks so much for your wise and humble leadership.
Wallace, this is excellent. I appreciate the reminder to begin with the end in mind. It is helpful to everyday life and choices. I did not know the “Nobel” story – thanks for sharing and encouraging!