I was just listening to Kip Tindell, who is the CEO of the Container Store talking about how everyone leaves a wake. I like thinking about a person's and a company's impact on others and the world-at-large in terms of the wake they leave because a wake is a physical thing you can see and feel. The things people and companies do, and do not do, cause physical results.
I think people and companies leave way more of a wake then they realize or plan for. We all have a much greater affect on those around us and the world-at-large that we realize. It's very easy to think of examples of people that have made a bad wake. Thankfully, it's also easy to think of those that leave a wake so positive that they inspire even long after they are gone. One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Don’t tell me it doesn't bring a tear to your eye in the end when half the town shows up to help out George Bailey because of the positive impact he had on so many. Imagine if you could go forward even a few years and see the result of your wake. Would you do something different today if you could see the results later?
A good argument could be made that companies have the opportunity to leave a far greater wake than individuals. After all, we spend the majority of our time working. It stands to reason that if a company chose to plot its wake carefully, it could have a substantial effect on everyone it touches. Companies have a huge advantage over individuals in that they have the potential power of a group. A group of people (which is all a company is) can decide together what they want their wake to look like. They can plan how they are going to do it and and act together to make it happen. A group of people can decide it's important enough to them to hold each other accountable to their vision and make sure they stay on track. If they really have courage, they put their the values that form the wake they choose in writing, make them public and invite those they impact to hold them accountable to them. It’s very easy to say you believe in this or that and many companies do put some nice sounding words on the wall. (Enron had “integrity” plastered on its walls). It takes a completely different level of leadership to not only create the words, but actually act on them and be held accountable to them.
The best part is that your wake is completely up to you. You can get up every day and decide what you leave behind. It's a choice you make each and every day and even moment by moment. It doesn't really matter what happened yesterday, you wake up with the same choice every day. How do you see the wake you leave? If you went ahead in time a dozen years or more, are the actions you are taking today casing the wake you envision? Guess what? You still have time.