Drive to Why

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


Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  How does that phrase resonate with you on a personal, leadership and business level?  Over the last 20 years, and the last 10 in particular, this phrase has held resonance for me.  While I make a distinction between personal, leadership and business worlds above, those of you in leadership roles and certainly those of you who have launched and are leading your own business know that this distinction is highly artificial.  Everything we do as a leader/owner is very much about US - it is difficult if not impossible to separate our realities.

In my coaching and consulting work, I have often marvelled at the conniptions that my clients put themselves through - or are put through - in the name of "risk management".  Certainly part of that is a function of the broader society we work within and the degree of regulation that has become so much a part of our lives.  When I reflect back on my leadership career and how that world has evolved since my first leadership role in 1986 it is amazing and distressing to see the degree of oversight that has now been imposed on our systems.  Now don't get me wrong.  The increase in regulation in many parts of our lives - healthcare protocols, environmental protection, financial reporting requirements - have all been done with positive intent and, in many cases, because leaders and systems have failed us.  We have met the enemy and they are us.

A significant consequence of this evolving reality, I believe, is that it has sapped our courage and diminished our ability and willingness to experiment and be bold on the promise of greater, future success and benefit.  Rather than being motivated by possibility we seek and actively enlarge the risks, barriers and challenges that MAY be in our way.  We often give up before we start.

Whether you believe you can or can't, you are right. 

So what explains this phenomena?  Why is it that at a personal and even organizational level we can start out with such enthusiasm and passion for a project or a cause and slowly have our fears grow and our confidence diminish?  I believe at least two interrelated factors come into play and they are our emotional intelligence and organizational culture.

Considering emotional intelligence (EQ), areas such as Self-Regard (which might be equated to confidence), Independence (ability to stand alone as necessary), and Stress Tolerance are subsets of EQ that come to the fore when I consider how we might "talk ourselves out of" a course of action.  Many of us are familiar with the "imposter syndrome" and wondering what gives us the authority or audacity to advance a position or initiative.  Might not there be other better qualified or informed people out there to lead forward?  In addition, when more and more voices present challenges (rather than solutions) who am I to question their perspective?  Self-doubt creeps in and grows.  Maybe they are more right than I am.  Beyond this sense of self-confidence and ability to stand alone for something we believe in, we are all also social beings - we value inclusion, not exclusion or isolation.  Our desire to be part of the "tribe" can sometimes hold us back from leading the tribe.

And what about organizational culture?  Culture can be defined as "...the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge which constitute the shared bases of...action.." and "...the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group."  I've highlighted what I think are some key elements of the definition to help illustrate my current train of thought.  In particular, the longer an organization has been around the more likely that it will have well-established, formal and informal, beliefs and expectations that guide, motivate and constrain its actions.  Some of that same perspective holds true for sectors (e.g., government, public sector) and professions.  Over time, the motivating or constraining elements of these cultures are given voice - and authority - through policies, procedures, protocols and all the other trappings of well-established organizational bureaucracies.  And over time, even if we look to change those parameters (e.g., to support creativity, innovation), we now have to contend with a culture that has become imprinted and embedded into our collective consciousness.  The tribe and our own desire to belong and maintain status within the tribe diminishes our willingness to push boundaries.  

So our own EQ "levels" combined with strong organizational culture can effectively partner to hold us back from a preferred future in deference to a "safer" status quo option.  We can be left to lament a lack of excitement, engagement and fulfillment on a personal level.  We can be left jaded, cynical and disappointed about what our organization can or can't do.  We have met the enemy and they are us.

So how to sustain drive, energy and hope in the face of all these real and perceived obstacles?  How can we sustain the venture and the promise of success in the face of "reality".  I suggest a number of ways that I have worked with and that I have seen my clients demonstrate:

One - Be crystal clear about your own vision of success.  It's much easier to get pushed away from your personal and organizational success when you yourself are not clear about the benefits of persevering in a course of action.  

Two - Ground yourself in your values, personal and organizational.  What's really important to you both in thought and action?  Again, if these are not well articulated you may inadvertently find yourself making decisions of convenience (e.g., risk aversion) rather than of conviction.

Three - Get out of your head and test reality.  One of my favorite coaching questions is "What is the worst that can happen?"  This is usually followed up with questions around how likely is this circumstance and what is our ability to develop mitigating strategies.  

Four - Get out of your head and test reality Part II.  Discuss your vision and strategy with others.  As I was creating BreakPoint Solutions, this meant getting coached by two separate coaches on two separate occasions.  Yes, there were potential barriers and unknowns, but by working them through I determined that my future developing vision was more compelling and engaging than just "making something else work..."

Five - Prepare for resistance and setbacks.  No great thing every came without effort, work and tribulation.  You will always have naysayers, those who want to play it safe and a range of other barriers.  Circle back to your Vision to sustain you.  Measure progress, appreciate success, recognize anomalies for what they are, and press on to the next milestone. 

Making a difference at a personal and organizational level takes courage, determination and hard work.  As a famous tag line says - "Is it in you?"

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions