I have been doing a lot of work of late with organizations and individual leaders as it relates to their "why". This has can manifest as questions related to "what is our mission?", "what does it mean to do what we do?" and even "what does it matter if we deliver this or that program or service?" In all of this there is a craving for clarity, direction and ultimately a hope that, on an individual or organizational level, we are in fact making a difference. For some, this conversation becomes even more powerful when it starts to address the concept of what legacy we might leave behind. Heady stuff.
There is no doubt that this is and should be considered a critical question to address. I tend to ascribe dysfunction at an organizational level to several different factors - lack of clarity or alignment on values, lack of clarity or alignment on strategies and tactics. Lack of commitment to or understanding of Mission/Purpose is high on this list of explaining organizational dysfunction and even conflict. The same holds true at an individual level. If we start to consider some of those difficult people we have worked with - or even ourselves - we can recount many instances of individuals who seemed perpetually ornery, out-of-sorts, grumpy and otherwise unpleasant. I consider these to be potential circumstances where people are disconnected from their fundamental purpose for being - they are not doing the work they were meant to do. They are in the wrong place to make the impact they were born to make.
One of the key challenges in addressing this gap is in fact understanding what the "Why" and Mission is. All too often the approach and answer to this question is confused with What and How we do things - we start describing our purpose within the context of the programs/services our organizations currently deliver or expect to deliver. We describe our Why by our title or position and things we currently do. This is certainly easier to wrap our heads around. It takes less effort to describe what we do and how we do. And we can start to address value we believe we are delivering by the number of people served or products delivered. Another reason there may be default to this way of trying to define Mission is that it is far less challenging to organizational and personal identity. Defining Mission by describing current activities rationalizes our current work. It affirms our identity and makes us feel good. It is an exercise also fraught with risk if our environment significantly changes or some other external force changes our mandate. Suddenly our activity-based Mission hits the proverbial - and literal - brick wall. Change at the stage engenders significant conflict and resistance.
So where to better start this organizational or individual search for Mission and Purpose - the more fundamental Why? I suggest divorcing yourself entirely from the programs/services you provide or the position/title you hold Engage in the thought process that eliminates the types of things you currently do that would yet allow you to adjust, change and do something different to allow you to fell fulfilled and purposeful. Sound a bit too pie in the sky?? Let me give you my personal example.
For the longest time I fundamentally confused Mission and Vision for myself. For much of my healthcare leadership career I would have defined success and Mission with the type of role I aspired to take on - CEO of a large urban hospital. The challenge to this dream were successive rounds of reform efforts that have characterized our reality since at least the mid 1990's. The positions and realities I aspired to increasingly ceased to exist. It truly wasn't until such time that I left my leadership career behind - involuntarily - that I came to define my new personal (and organizational) mission in ways that transcended any particular role, occupation, title or even location. The result for me became:
Helping Leaders Discover, Realize and Unleash Their Potential
For me, this new sense of purpose - perhaps driven out of necessity - allowed me and allows me to live to a sense of purpose that can be realized in a multitude of ways, robust enough to respond as changing circumstances dictate. Far from being "flighty" in my work or approach to life it allows me to remain centred and be who I want to be regardless of changing context. I can live this Mission by being a Leader in the formal sense with position, title and authority - I can take on a job as I desire. I can live this Mission by being an individual or team/group coach. I can live this Mission as a consultant. I can live this Mission through presentations, teaching and speaking engagements. This Mission, This Why is not dependent on any one type of work, client or even location. It becomes THE constant guidepost for continuous learning, professional development, networking and a range of other activities. It speaks to my Passion first and any desirable outcome (e.g., earnings) second.
So that's my advice and challenge to you. Be fundamentally clear on your purpose - for yourself or your organization (or both). Be fundamentally clear on a Mission that can be independent of what you do or how you do today. If you don't know why you do what you do don't be surprised to end of up in a place you don't want to be.
Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions