For all too many organizations and teams many purpose statements are looked at by employees as backroom jokes. Why? Because of the tremendous irony in trying to engage people’s passions and talents in a mission they have no passion for and no involvement in creating.
At the same time, there is nothing more powerful than the passions that drive people. Tap into those, and you create an unstoppable force. If you get people talking about their passions, they go so far overboard you can’t get them to stop. But then management boils out all the passion to reduce it to a mediocre, bureaucratic sounding mission statement, and that’s why the cynicism.
Your organization’s true mission is discovered, not created—and it takes considerable effort to discover it: It is not a weekend’s work. There’s a universal quality in a great mission statement—you sense that it really matters to people—while at the same time there’s nothing more distinctive, unique, or peculiar. It’s generally applicable and unbelievably specific at the same time.
In broad strokes, it sounds something like this:
We are going where no other people can go because no other people are like us. No one else has the unique combination of talent, passion, and conscience that drives us. No one else can make the contribution we can make.
A great mission is expressed in negatives: “No one else goes there . . . no one else can go there . . . no one else is like us . . . no one else can contribute this . . . .” There is absolutely no whisper of “me too.”
As Warren Buffett says, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
When you say no to certain things, it allows you to say yes to other things—to the things that are in alignment with your mission.
So call it what you want. If people are allergic to the term “mission statement,” call it a mantra or a manifesto or a purpose statement or a passion statement or “the voice of the organization.” Whatever you call it, you need it badly.
The old paradigm of management is to put a mission statement on the wall and forget about it: the new paradigm of leadership is to help people find their voice—both individually and collectively.
Read more about purpose here.
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.