Many people, many of them in high managerial positions, succeed by avoiding failure. They become unmemorable by design. A new head teacher was appointed in an important school. The press went back to past pupils and asked what they remembered of him: ‘he fell downstairs once’. A new pharma R&D leader is nicknamed “The Chronic Survivor” because everybody else in his top team have left or been fired but he managed to survive unscathed from all the storms. People can’t remember any mistakes he has ever made. People can’t remember anything, period, other than the fact that he survives.
These two vignettes are real and part of my past experience. Many leaders may remain unnoticed and in the unmemorable category. They are squatters in the organizational chart. ‘What do you want to be remembered for?’ is a crucial question we don’t ask often enough.