I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.
Where do you turn when the day runs off the tracks, the meeting you’ve prepared so hard for goes badly, or you’re in the middle of that part of your job you dislike the most? What do you do when you’re fatigued, worn thin, burned out with your work, with your life? How do you get back that energy you used to have, the joy that filled your work, the motivation to fight through any obstacle?
There’s really only one place to turn, one thing you need – to know, believe and wrap your whole being around your purpose. Your purpose answers the question – why am I here? It’s the reason you do your job, the reminder of the impact you have, the difference you and your work make, and the outcomes you strive so hard for. It’s the reason behind what you do and why you do it.
If you keep your purpose at the forefront of your mind, it provides the energy, joy and motivation to keep at your work, to fight through the challenges and boredom. Once you lose your sense of purpose or worse, you work and live outside the scope of your purpose, your energy, joy and motivation will soon slip away.
So what exactly is purpose? It’s the goals you have, but it’s more than numbers or accomplishments. It’s the direction you want to go, but it’s beyond your destination. Purpose goes deeper, wider and higher. Purpose is the ultimate end you are seeking for your work, for you self, and for those you wish to impact. It’s who God’s called you to be and the good work He’s prepared for you to do.
So how do you discover your purpose? You discover it when you clearly understand your highest values, acknowledge your gifts, abilities and life experiences, and know the opportunities you have to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world. The confluence of knowing yourself and the world you live in is where you discover your purpose.
So over the next few posts we’ll take a deeper look at the steps you can take to discover your purpose. My goal is to help you find new inspiration to do your work or, if necessary, find the kind of work that better aligns with your purpose.
The Candy Cane Team and staff from a local school
Imagine for a moment a company holiday party that wasn’t focused exclusively on food, drinks, and loud Christmas sweaters, but instead had a deeper purpose. A party where the company’s core values were not left at the door step but were integrated into the party itself. Where the meaning and the true Spirit of Christmas were center stage. And instead of an event that most people dreaded, it was a party that employees looked forward to because they knew lives would be transformed – theirs and others.
Now that sounds like a company Christmas party worth attending. So the question is – what might such a party look like?
Well, I can tell you because this past Friday I had the opportunity, as a guest, to attend one. It was the Flexware Innovations (Indianapolis, IN) annual Giving Challenge Christmas party. And it was the most fun and deeply touching company Christmas party I’ve ever attended. It had all the traditional ingredients for a great party – an excellent meal, gracious and talented people, but with an added bonus – a larger purpose.
So here’s how this party worked. The company was divided into 6 teams of 5 or 6 employees plus one non-profit leader (there were six local organizations from the Indianapolis area represented, and I was fortunate to be on the Candy Cane team). We started the day sitting with our teams enjoying an incredible lunch at a fabulous restaurant during with we heard a brief overview of each non profit organization by their leader.
Then the fun began.
Each team was given $1000 in cash with the mission to give it away to anyone who would be blessed by a gift before 4:00 that day. There were no rules just a couple of suggestions – we were encouraged to make a gift in person and to an individual or family who would be especially blessed by it. From there each team had to identify potential opportunities (that’s where the non profit leaders came into play), develop a game plan to meet those needs and then make it happen. Each team was provided a small charter bus with a driver to get us where we needed to go.
Then over the next 3 or so hours $6000 was distributed as cash or purchased gifts to dozens of people, some in deep need, others simply to bless. For example our team helped a local middle school class complete it’s shopping list of items for a local family of 10 they adopted for this Christmas season. We visited a grocery store in the city and bought the groceries of two families (which was very fun). Finally, we were able to help a single mom who wanted to take her kids to visit family out of state for Christmas but didn’t have the resources to do it.
With each gift two things happened – those who received these gifts were blessed (maybe in ways we’ll never see), and those who distributed these gifts (Flexware employees) saw the power of generosity and the difference it can make in the lives of others.
For me personally, after the past fast and furious 6 months at SpringHill, this was the perfect way to end my work year, to see core values lived out, to be with people making a difference, to see a single mom cry with incredible joy to an answered prayer, to be reminded that God most often choses to help people through other people and to be used by God in this way is the greatest blessing of all.
In my last post we discussed the need to courageously face the brutal facts and resist the temptation to “bend the map”. So, for leaders, the obvious follow-up question’s are:
- Where do we find this courage?
- What’s the solid foundation we can plant our feet on?
- Where do we find the confidence that, regardless of the outcome of our decisions, we can rest knowing we made them based on strong values and clear convictions?
It’s in this last question that we find the foundation to having the courage to make those tough decisions. We need to seek, find and articulate both our personal and our organizational values and beliefs. So to that end, let’s take a brief look at both core values and beliefs and the critical role each play in making tough decisions.
Core values answer the question – what’s most important? What are the things we’re willing to work and sacrifice for, and never compromise on? What’s so important that we’ll defend these values even if it causes great pain and loss? Think of the great price paid by the men and women of our military to defend our nation’s core values of liberty and freedom. Core values, when used in decision-making, provide a guide on what we’re willing to do and not to do.
The second half of our foundation for courage is knowing our core beliefs. Core beliefs answer the question – what do we believe to be true? They’re different from core values because they’re found outside of ourselves or our organization not from within. Though they’re similar to core values, because when they’re core we’re willing to defend, sacrifice, and suffer pain and loss because of them. However we must remember that core beliefs are true regardless of whether everyone values or believes them. Articulating core beliefs is an act of acknowledging the reality in which we live and work and gives us a solid foundation to face and make difficult decisions. It keeps us from “bending the map” and helps assure we’re making decisions that match up with the realities of the world.
So as leaders we have the dual responsibility of knowing and articulating both our personal as well as our organization’s core values and beliefs. They provide us the foundation for the courage we need to make tough decisions, the peace of mind we seek during difficult times and the guard rails to keep us on track.
If you’ve never articulated your personal and your team’s core values and belief’s I encourage you to begin the process as soon as possible. Taking time before the new year begins will help you and your leadership prepare for the inevitable tough decisions that will come your way in 2016.
As Denise and I walked through a building on the Yard, we saw the words, “Excellence without Arrogance“, predominately displayed. As many of you know our third child, Mitch, entered the United States Naval Academy this summer as a freshman, or as they’re known as – Plebes, and where the campus is referred to as the Yard. When I read this maxim, six weeks into Mitch’s Plebe summer (basic training), I knew immediately it wasn’t just a pithy saying that someone painted on the wall but was a value that my son, as well as the other 1200 Plebes, learned during their training.
How do I know this?
First, the people affiliated with the USNA that Denise and I met, be it Naval and Marine officers, upperclassmen, facility and support staff, all demonstrated this incredible balance of excellence and humility. They were both gracious, friendly and helpful as well as they oozed with professionalism, commitment and excellence.
Secondly, when we were with Mitch that weekend, we saw change in him. He was no longer the same person we dropped off on Induction day. His sister, Christina, describe it best when she said “Mitch seems more confident and less arrogant.” An interesting play on words but an accurate description of this important Navy value, Excellence without Arrogance, becoming a reality in a future officer.
So here’s what we, as leaders, need to grapple with – a value of an organization or individual is not core just because it’s written on a wall, a card or in a website. It can only be core if it is so deeply embedded that it oozes out in such a visible and tangible way that others outside the organization can see, experience and name the value without ever reading the website.
The American flag represents the highest values and beliefs of the United States as articulated in our Constitution. This is why, when I was a Boy Scout, we learned to never let the flag touch the ground. We were to protect and keep our flag from being soiled or trampled on, treating it with the highest respect.
As leaders we have the same responsibilities to the organizations we lead and work for – to protect, uphold and advance the answers (core values, mission, vision, etc.) to the 6 key questions (click here to see the 6 questions) every organization needs to answer. This is why, at SpringHill, a leader’s job is to assure the “SpringHill flag” never touches the ground.
How does a leader assure that such things as the core values, mission and vision of their organization stays fresh, untarnished and respected?
- Authentically live out the values, mission and vision of your organization.
- Over communicate the answers to the 6 key questions.
- Reward, recognize, celebrate, and reinforce, both publicly and privately, any examples of your team practicing your organization’s values, mission, etc.
- Regularly and honestly evaluate how you and your team are doing living out your organization’s mission, vision and core values and then be willing to make any necessary changes.
So take it from a Boy Scott, if you make these four practices a part of your leadership, you’ll help assure that your organization’s flag will never touch the ground.43.928283-85.286682
In honor of today’s SpringHill Leadership Team’s monthly strategy meeting, I found Patrick Lencioni’s perspective on meetings in his new book The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, both helpful and hopeful.
“No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting. As dreaded as the ‘m’ word is, as maligned as it has become, there is no better way to have a fundamental impact on an organization than by changing the way it does meetings.
In fact, if someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would not ask to see its financial statements, review its product line, or even talk to is employees or customers; I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting. This is where the values are established, discussed, and lived and where decisions around strategy and tactics vetted, made and reviewed. Bad meetings are the birthplace of unhealthy organizations, and good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity and communication.
So why in the world do we hate meetings? Probably because they are usually awful. More often than not they are boring, unfocused, wasteful, and frustrating. Somehow we’ve come to accept this – to believe that there is just something inherently wrong with the whole idea of meetings. It’s almost as though we see them as a form of corporate penance, something that is inevitable and must be endured.
Well, I am utterly convinced that there is nothing inherently bad about meetings, nothing that can’t be fixed if we confront the problems we’ve allowed to calcify over the years.”43.928283-85.286682
We’ll begin with the first two questions – “what do we believe to be true?” and “what’s important to us?” The answers are foundational and should never change, though they can occasionally be updated for clarity’s sake. The answers are the underpinnings for the other four questions. And like any good foundation, they need to be protected from any form of compromise.
Question 1: What do we believe to be true?
Typically religious organizations have a statement of faith or a confession that answers “what do we believe to be true?” drafted through blood, sweat and tears and then, unfortunately, ends up on the shelf somewhere. Yet in a world where truth seems to be like shifting sands, articulating what you believe can and should be integral to an organization’s DNA. There is not appropriate length to such a document; it depends entirely on what is held as true.
Even for non religious organizations I’ve come to believe that answering this question can be a unifying process and help provide clarity and alignment for the entire organization.
Question 2: What’s important to us?
Core Values, on the other hand, should be limited to 5 to 8 succinct and memorable statements that answer the question “what’s important to us”? They define what an organization should and shouldn’t do. Jim Collin says in Built to Last – “it is absolutely essential to not confuse core ideology with culture, strategy, tactics, operations, etc.” Core values transcend all these things while guiding their appropriate implementation. Refer to Built to Last for some examples.
With these two foundational questions answered an organization is ready to answer the next two questions – “Why do we exist?” and “What makes us distinct?” both of which we’ll look at in my next post.
To see SpringHill’s answers to the 6 Key Questions click here.43.928283-85.286682