"Mission Possible! A Clear Statement of Purpose is an Important First Step in Breathing Life into a Business or Organization", published in the August 29, 2007 issue of Worcester Telegram and Gazette's The Buzz
Virginia Swain, CEO, Institute for Global Leadership  © 2007

A colleague recently confessed her secret dread of leading an upcoming mission statement process. She had gone through so many boring group sessions that she wanted to finish it as quickly as possible. 

I was taken aback.  For the business leaders, companies, nonprofits I’ve work with, the construction of personal and corporate mission statements has proven both effective and lifegiving to their leadership, particularly during tough economic times. In my consulting experience, people are hungry for authentic leadership that is mission-focused, leadership that draws on their lives’ meaning and purpose to prosper.

What do I mean by mission?  Stephen R. Covey writes in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “people must approach all the roles in their lives—family, community, business—with values and clear direction—and need a mission statement."  Author Richard Bolles in the biggest seller of all career books, What Color is Your Parachute? urges those identifying their mission to “exercise the talent which you particularly have, your greatest gift in which you most delight, in the place that appeals to you the most, and for those purposes which most need to have done in the world.”

Covey states that organizational mission statements must come from the “bowels of the organization”. The company’s mission has to spring from a shared mission of all employees for maximum effectiveness and productivity. Besides gaining the confidence and trust in oneself and one’s abilities, employees undertaking a mission statement process gives both seasoned and emerging leaders a foundation for work and life success, a path to find one’s passion and power.  That passion gives organizations energy and shared accountability. Employees’ power comes from inner integrity, clarity and confidence, rather than having power over someone else. Mission-focused leadership demonstrates that influence and power come from understanding and trusting one’s innate gifts and strengths and arises from all the employees.

The leader’s personal mission statement can set the tone and agenda for the whole company’s involvement with a lively and interactive exchange, resulting in personal and organizational buy-in from all stakeholders. A company mission statement describes the future direction of the organization that is consistent with the values, goals and objectives of those stakeholders. It identifies where the business wants to go, but not how to achieve those goals.  

Mission-focused leaders understand that their work is just part of the strategic planning process. Along with mission statement preparation are visioning, writing goals/objectives, developing action plans, implementation, follow up and evaluation.

That focus pays off. Leaders of mission-focused companies will create far greater shareholder value than financially oriented companies, argues former Medtronic chairman and CEO Bill George in his book Authentic Leadership.  As proof, during George's twelve-year leadership at Medtronic, the company's market capitalization soared from $1.1 to $460 billion, averaging 35 percent annual growth. 

George details the five essential dimensions “authentic” leaders develop -- purpose, values, heart, relationships, and self-discipline – a valid model for all who want to lead with heart and compassion for those they serve.

George’s authentic leaders share many attributes with those I call Reflective Leaders. These leaders step off the daily treadmill by building personal time first in their lives. They learn to listen more effectively, reflect on their roles and the latest business practices, and acquire new skills. They are practical idealists who facilitate trusting, supportive environments to address challenges while mindful of bottom line demands.

The mission statement process stands at the foundation of the Institute for Global Leadership.  Through the development of their personal mission statements, participants appreciate the core gifts and strengths they’ve taken for granted. They acquire valuable competencies, including introspection, reflection, self-awareness, listening skills; clarity of one’s own needs and agenda; balance and wellness in one’s daily life; and sharing feedback without alienating their colleagues.

By aligning their leadership with their life’s passion, these leaders invite all their stakeholders to join them to demonstrate why mission statements matter.

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