These 3 Rules and their accompanying best practices will enable you to:
The word “mission” is often used to articulate a long-term (typically, five to seven years) goal or Aspiration. More short-term objectives are typically referred to merely as “goals.” However, by definition, a well-crafted mission is a goal—just usually bigger and with a longer time horizon.
“Mission” is a word with rich meaning and potentially profound implications. The denotation includes “being sent to complete a specific task.” Leaders establish the task to be accomplished and commission the people to pursue it.
Whether the mission is military, corporate, organizational, or even personal, the task must be explicit and concrete. A mission can be labeled successful or not depending on whether the specific task was completed.
Therefore, the best mission statements are specific, measurable, and time bound. You would not typically work on a mission forever. As we established earlier, the forever-type Aspiration is probably better defined as a vision or purpose. Let’s take a deeper look at the quintessential example of a mission from President John F. Kennedy.
On May 25, 1961, the President stood before Congress and said America should “commit itself to achieving the goal (mission), before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
He checked all the boxes with this single statement. The mission was long-term in nature but still time bound: “before this decade is out.” The task was specific and well defined: “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” These first two attributes together also made the mission measurable—the entire world would know if the mission was a success or not.
Kennedy gets bonus points because the mission was also bold and inspiring.
Here are a few excerpts from what he said in a speech on September 12, 1962:
Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial
revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this
generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to
be a part of it—we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon
and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag
of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space
filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Yet the vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we in this nation are first, and,
therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for
peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this
effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s
leading space-faring nation.
. . . We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the
other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve
to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that
we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and
the others, too.
. . . And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and
dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
Anybody want to go to the moon?
There is a reason Kennedy’s words are used decades later to illustrate the power of a well-conceived and well-articulated mission; this speech was one of his finest hours and a model for leaders who want to lead a team, organization, or nation to accomplish the unimaginable.
The United States did successfully accomplish the mission on July 20, 1969 (before the end of the decade), when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
If you use this approach, it is important to establish another mission once you have completed the current one or when you find your people searching again for meaning. This was one of the lessons learned from NASA’s Apollo program. There was no compelling mission after the moon landing. History tells us that tens of thousands of the world’s brightest minds left NASA to find another “moonshot” (aka mission).
Depending on how you answered these questions, you may want to use a mission statement to clarify and articulate your Aspiration. If not, no worries; you have other tools at your disposal.
As some of you know, I have worked at the same company for almost forty-five years. My tenure has been marked by several different roles and even a few career changes within the business. I started in our warehouse and mail room, and I also had the opportunity to start a few departments: Corporate Communications, Quality & Customer Satisfaction, and others. I’ve worked in Restaurant Operations, led our Training & Development group, and more. I have had a very full and fulfilling career. That’s the nice way to say it, anyway. I was once introduced by a colleague as a guy who couldn’t hold down a job! There is some truth in his comment, though.
I remember one specific transition to a new team that taught me a lot. The president of the company accompanied me to the first meeting with my new department. I knew this was not really to introduce me; he was there to show his support. I was glad he had my back. After I was introduced, one of the team members asked me about my vision for the department.
I don’t know if this question would have surprised you or not. You could easily think, Seriously, I am brand new—this is my first day. How could I have a vision? Well, I was not surprised by the question, and if you are leading, I don’t care if it is your first day or your thousandth—people expect leaders to have a vision, even if they don’t use that exact word.
Here’s what I said: “I see this team having more influence, more impact, and more reach in the future . . .”
Before I could even finish my thought, the team member interrupted me and said, “No, no, that’s not what I am talking about.”
“What are you referring to?” I asked.
“I want to know if the work I do is going to continue. Who is going to be my supervisor, and where will I sit?”
“I don’t know any of those things,” I said. “But here’s what I do know: we are going to have more influence, more impact, and more reach. We will work together in the weeks and months to come to answer your specific questions.”
Here’s the point: people generally want certainty, but rarely can you and I provide that certainty. Dr. King didn’t have certainty; President Kennedy didn’t know all the answers regarding how we would accomplish the moon mission. Certainty is almost always just out of our reach. However, what we can provide is clarity.
This first rule is about Aspiration, not absolutes. The only certainty we can provide as we look to the future is intent and effort; we cannot guarantee the outcome.
Your Move . . .
How might having a stated vision or mission serve your organization?
Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. The future is not yet written—it will be written by leaders. This is the essence of leadership and Aspiration: seeing what others do not yet see and not only helping them see it, but also instilling in them the desire to pursue it with you. Two mechanisms at your disposal to help others “see it” are vision and mission.
Vision: A broad and directional picture of the future. Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is the
Mission: A long-term goal that can be accomplished and celebrated in an allotted time. President
Kennedy’s moon shot is an outstanding illustration of this mechanism in action.
Caution: Provide clarity, not certainty. All a leader can guarantee is their intent and effort.
You can also view the one hour Webinar on “Culture Rules” Mark did on February 6 by clicking HERE
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