At least that’s what I thought until recently when Beth and I had to coach our leadership development students to write their own personal mission statements.
My job was to help them to decide what their statement should be. This entailed long discussions of how we spend our time at work, versus how we wished we spent our time at work.
Next, I was to help them find a unique way in which to express that mission and convince others of its worth and meaning.
This last step would be easy. It was the first, talking about something so wishy-washy, that I found challenging. How was I going to help these construction project managers to write something that I didn’t believe in?
During one coaching session, a student asked me, what’s your personal mission statement? Gulp.
As much as I turned my nose up at the subject, I realized that I needed to walk that talk. I wish I could say I planned it, but during one session I blurted out, I help people build their creative confidence and give voice to their stories.
The moment it popped out of my mouth, I felt a rainbow envelope me and saw unicorns dancing before my eyes.
After I said it without thinking, I realized how spot on that statement is. So then I had to spend time digging into that thought, and really understanding what a mission is and what it should feel like.
WHAT IS–AND IS NOT–A MISSION
Perhaps it’s mission statements like these that ruin it for the rest of us:
“Shape the future of the Internet by creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees, investors, and ecosystem partners.”
What does that even mean? Can you tell it’s from one of the largest technology companies in the world? I’m looking at you, Cisco.
Here’s another one:
At Zappos.com, our purpose is simple: to live and deliver WOW.
(Full disclosure: I just bought a pair of shoes from Zappos.)
While I like the energy and positive attitude, I’m not really interested in WOW. I just want shoes that fit.
IS IT ABOUT YOU OR YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Our clients are all great people working hard to do the right thing for business, and for humanity. But when it comes to communications, it can be pretty difficult to separate your own needs from what your stakeholders need. (We have a great process for this. Ask us about the Magic Football!)
Are mission statements for you? Or are they neon signs letting your prospects know what to expect when they come inside?
A good mission statement can be like your North Star, helping you find your way to making good decisions. Like a better angel sitting on your shoulder, your mission statement will “grumpf” when an assignment doesn’t feel quite right.
Or, it can make you feel a bit like Indiana Jones on the hunt for something extraordinary. (That’s Anna Kendrick up there in the image, dressed in an Indiana Jones Red Nose Day spoof. Mission statements are serious but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t poke a little fun at ourselves.)
WHAT DO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
A great story will illuminate what may be hidden below.
We always ask, “what does this story mean and what work does it have to do?” Perhaps that’s the same as asking about its mission. And once you do that, the floodgates open and the conversation can change from just this one email message, to a broader conversation about what you truly want to accomplish.
Our Story Mode Story Starter asks this question first.
For instance, I’ve always thought of myself as a storytelling teacher. But I’m realizing that this is only part of what I do. Whether it’s working with an individual trying to finish a book or creative project, coaching someone struggling to create and deliver a presentation at work, or challenging a team to stop using C.R.A.P.* and start saying what they mean…my job is to help them find the right story for this moment and even more importantly, to realize they can learn how to find the next story on their own.
The illumination? At my core, I help people and teams find creative confidence.
DOES THIS ASSIGNMENT HELP ME ACHIEVE MY MISSION?
This of course should be the question we ask every time we get an assignment or have some crazy idea to make pop-up corporate fairy tale books instead of slide decks. (Oh wait, maybe that is a good idea?)
I’d like to say that I follow this rule. But I don’t always. Sometimes I say yes to an opportunity, when I should have the confidence to say “no thanks, that’s not really what I do.”
But needs must, as they say. There are many reasons to take on an assigned that isn’t a great fit. Money, of course. Or choosing to do a favor for a colleague or client. And I think that’s ok. What I do in those situations is go rogue, sneak in some storytelling and find a way to work on building that creative confidence.
I have to; I’m on a mission.