Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries is the Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires based in Fontainebleau, France). He also was the first fly fisherman in Outer Magnolia (I am not sure how this was verified, but this declaration is critical to de Vries’ notable resume). His book Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership is a collection of his essays dealing with the interface between management and psychoanalysis.
I didn’t connect with this assigned reading until I got to the final chapter, “The Epitaph Question.” De Vries contends that the epitaph question is a very lucid way for one to take a long-term perspective of one’s life and quickly get down to what is most important in one’s life. That is, what does one want to be remembered for or what will become the painfull legacy of one’s life? Cutting through the chaff and fluff of foggy perspectives is the bread and butter of coaching. Immediately, I became attuned to this construct for long term perspective and clarity for developing leaders.
De Vries contends that this is the ultimate exercise in beginning with the end in mind. Harkening back to my construction management days during the ‘80s, I recall Stephen Covey’s Seven Habit of Highly Effective People version of the epitaph question, “Beginning with the end in mind” (perhaps De Vries was influenced by Covey?) This habit has always been imprinted upon my awareness because this was the season when my father-in-law died suddenly and very unexpectantly (at 58 years of age) due to a massive heart attack over one weekend. While he and I were not particularly close, I remember being shaken to how fleeting life is and that truly none of us has a promise of tomorrow. That is, I may never live long enough to see the fruition of what I am working so hard to achieve today. Perhaps the philosopher John Lennon said it best, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So with no promise of tomorrow, how do I want to be remembered? How do I want to shape my legacy?
Legacy or heritage is on my heart and mind. It would be easy to attribute this mindset to my surprising accumulation of birthdays. But I think something deeper is going on; that is, I increasingly see myself as part of an inter-generational collective. Legacy was on my mind last week when I spent two days at the Send Institute’s Think Tank for Church Planting Training and Coaching. We were presented a scenario of the church in the US in the year 2050. For the sake of this post the details of the scenario are not relevant. What is relevant is that the 30-40 leaders in that room at Wheaton College from across the Protestant church will probably not be alive in 2050. That is, what am I doing? What am I pouring myself into today that will impact the global Church in the year 2050 and beyond?
For me, this is both a sobering and exciting Holy Spirit thought. What I am doing now; what we are all doing now is not limited to our local context. May we all continue to grow and learn and serve with the end in mind. Not our individual “end,” but rather what we pass onto others that will continue to bless the Church!
 Manfred F.R. Kets De Vries, Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership: Leadership Pathology in Everyday Life (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) vii-xv .
 De Vries, Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership, 172.