If you want to be a truly great leader, you must start by leading yourself. This includes having a vision or mission that inspires and energizes you. It also means that you have a clear purpose in mind for everything you do—initiatives, projects, meetings.
It’s based on the simple principle of knowing your destination early. Even if you fall short, you’ll be moving in the right direction.
Some people say, “All the talk about vision is just drivel.” However, everything made by humans is the result of a vision, from a potato peeler to the Mona Lisa. It’s designed in the mind first. Ironically, we know how to design potato peelers, but we’re not very good at designing a life. By just taking things as they come, we go at the most important things in life without much vision.
How often do we hear (and sometimes say), “They don’t know what they’re doing in the head office—this organization is drifting—does anybody know where we’re headed?” Employees sit in meetings and nod their heads as the senior leader discusses his or her plans. They attend town halls and listen to someone wax on about the next iteration of the organization’s mission statement, thinking that it sounds eerily similar to the last one. They watch organizational lines being drawn and redrawn to only encounter the same problems a year later. They listen to organizational plans that seem void of passion, vision, or even sense. Throughout all of this, people lose sight of what they are truly trying to achieve.
It sounds so obvious: “What is it that we are trying accomplish? Does it make sense? Is there any passion at all, any aspiration in it? How will we measure success?” But it’s remarkable how many managers never even ask these basic questions. And if they do think about them they’re afraid to ask because, after all, they should know, shouldn’t they?
Even fewer ask themselves, “What is my own personal mission? What should I contribute here? What kind of a difference do I want to make? What will I remember about my work here? How will people remember me—or will they remember me at all?” Or do they see themselves as “job descriptions with legs,” giving little or nothing of their own minds and hearts to their work?
“The human race is filled with passion,” Mr. Keating said to the boys in Dead Poets Society. “What do we stay alive for?” He then asked, as did the great Walt Whitman, “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
What wonderful and appropriate questions for each of us to consider. What will our individual “verses” be? How will we make our contributions to the world?
Creating—or better said, discovering—your personal mission is a difficult but very powerful process. It will help bring clarity to the things you value and will help define how you spend your time and the contributions you will make.
It will bring a greater sense of meaning to your work. You’ll be able to help your team craft its mission. You might even influence your organization’s mission.
Answer these key question starts with you.
- What is your mission or vision of your own future?
- What will your contribution be in your current work role?
Once you have discovered and carefully defined your personal mission, you have a clear “end in mind” and you can begin to influence others to make their contributions.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.