Almost a month ago, I had the experience of processing two different deaths within the space of two days, both of which occurred in tremendously varying contexts.
First, on a Thursday morning, I woke up to discover, via a text message from my cousin, that his Dad (and my uncle) had suddenly passed away in his sleep, following massive health struggles over the past year. The day after that, I woke up to the news that Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history and arguably one of the world’s most iconic figures since World War II, had passed away.
Both of these incidents hit me deeply. With the former, it was rooted within the familiar connection we share, and particularly a compassionate mourning for my cousin who had to bear the main brunt of it. With the latter, my sense of history (developed during university days) and a close attention to global affairs enabled me to resonate with how tremendous a loss it would be for the world, and particularly the people of Great Britain.
That got me thinking – what are the lessons that I could learn from these two deaths of a very different nature? How can we apply those lessons when striving to work well?
First, let’s take a look at the Queen’s legacy. There is very good reason why she has built up such a legendary and respected reputation. Her last significant action while still alive on earth was to meet with the new British Prime Minister (who, incredibly was the 15th of her reign), even in a state of strong physical fragility. It was almost the perfect embodiment of her sense of duty, one of the hallmarks of her legacy. The Queen’s sense of duty, displayed many more times over in her life, through family controversy and national tumult, is what gained her innumerable admirers, including myself.
With my uncle, he certainly was less famous and celebrated than the Queen. But just like with the Queen, it represented a loss for people to whom he mattered, and a haunting reminder that it is always worth treasuring loved ones, as you never know when you may lose them. My observations were ultimately centred not primarily on his life, as I did not know him so well (although I did know his past was quite chequered). Instead, I mainly noticed my cousin’s sober dedication to handling funeral matters, while looking after his mother, who had also been plagued. In fact, he had also played a big role in tirelessly looking after his father for the past year when he was chronically ill. It was an incredibly encouraging to witness his dedication towards his family, before and after the passing of his father.
When it comes to how these deaths provide lessons to take to our workspaces, the first is to think about how we view our duties toward one another. It works best when we are fuelled by a sense of duty not just for our self-interest or self-preservation, but because we truly care for helping and equipping others in our orbit. And, to recognise that dignity and fulfilment mainly comes not merely by getting others to meet our needs, but by working to meet the needs of others – your team members, your employees, your clients. The queen knew her proper duties, all through her life, even when on the cusp of passing away at the age of 96. My cousin, in looking after his father for about a year, knew his duty toward the parents who raised him.
Another is to display integrity, being mindful that the primary fruits are usually manifested in the long term rather than immediately. When you display a consistent attitude of performing at your best, always being honest and truthful in how you speak, and considerate of how your actions impact others, the reality is that this may not be instantly recognised. However, it will be given proper recognition in due time, as it was with the Queen.
It is important to be mindful about the example we set for others, particularly when given a position of leadership and influence over a large group of people. This is something that will impact them when they are around you, whenever you are nowhere, and possibly even when you have already left this world. And a powerful example, of your conduct and deeds, will speak more powerfully than any commands you bark at them. Whether it is the example of a dignified queen serving her nation, or a filial adult son looking after his parents, an example always matters.
Lastly, we need to remember to treasure our lives, and the important people in it, guided by the sobering truth that we really don’t know when it will all end. Therefore, it is worth retaining every ounce of gratitude and intentionality when planning what we do to build our lives, including our work commitments. With the work we carry out, amongst the other components of our lives, it is good to carry a healthy sense of urgency to build our own legacies, and build up the people who we are serving.
written by Gerald Koh
The ELF Team
with gratitude of our past, current and future Growth Partners