They don’t suck because they are a bad idea or because they don’t carry within them sound notions around why you are doing what you do.
They suck because they are often crafted as a matter of rote, because a book or a consultant told you to create one, so you jammed together a bunch of ideas and wrote one, then shoved it into a document, a folder, a file and put it away. Or, perhaps, you hung it on the wall in the breakroom or conference room until the words became just shapes you didn’t fully recognize or read.
Here’s a test if you have a mission statement: can you remember it without looking at it? Do you believe it in your soul? How would your team answer these two questions?
Mission statements become irrelevant because they very often do not guide the work of the people. They do not embody a higher ideal or motivate another level of effort. They do not connect to the hearts of the people who are striving for a similar endeavor. Mission statements are esoterically separate from the work; a passive theory that inspires little, guides little.
Here’s the thing: we believe in missions. We just don’t believe in mission statements.
The definition of mission to us (often referred to as brand purpose or mission of the brand in our work) is the thing you are here to do that only you can do.
The mission is singular, one idea that contains multitudes. That same idea is small and evocative to your own soul. The mission is personal and universal. It is gigantically hopeful and highly tangible. (As an example, Root + River’s mission is to inspire leaders to go inward. That’s it.)
This is the first dichotomy you have to embrace to begin the journey to uncover your mission.
To be a 21st-century leader of impact, we believe you need to do the work to understand your mission. Yes, both your personal mission and the mission of your organization.
Why is this vital? Because your mission will guide the decisions you make personally and professionally. These decisions will likely include: when to ask for a promotion, when to leave an organization, when to apply for the CEO job, how to build connections in and outside of your industry, what types of clients you are seeking, what aspects of the business you want to invest in, when to divest, who to hire or promote, and when to stop working and turn your attention to other pursuits.
In the work we do with our clients, mission is the taproot of their brand. It is the connection to the quintessence of why your brand exists. Its fruit is how other people experience you: visuals, language, culture, innovation, customer experience.
The leader and the brand that knows and believes in the mission stands out amongst her competitors. They are obvious. The existence of a mission is a differentiator unto itself. It’s also obvious when a leader or a brand doesn’t know their mission or believe it. That’s when brands lose audience trust, cede market share, experience a mass exodus of employees, have a rotating door of leadership, become visually or digitally stale or plodding and slowly fade into the background.
We won’t want that to happen to you. That’s why putting the effort into uncovering your mission is worth it.
Uncovering your mission is sweaty work. You’ve got to dig deep and put your back into it. You have to believe that if you dig far enough into your soul, you will find your mission. This is why uncovering your mission is more treasure hunt and less problem-solving; less task and more creativity.
Here are a few clues to know where to start digging …
- What are you doing to advance humanity? It’s a bit simplistic and self-serving to say that your mission only benefits you and your stakeholders. Missions have a direct line of sight to benefiting others.
- What are you working steadily to be known for at a human level? Money isn’t it. Dig into the space where money doesn’t exist to reflect. Think beyond expertise, products, transactions.
- What cause or movement makes you deeply emotional when you think about it? This might be a movement of the past, or one that has just begun. It doesn’t have to be a global issue. It can be a movement related to your industry or community.
- What injustice in society angers you? Your mission isn’t about staying with that rage, but the intensity of anger is a powerful clue to what lies underneath, a quest you are called to participate in.
When you find your mission, it will feel like finding a treasure; likely one you’ve subconsciously long sought. You’ll feel it in your body. Your heart will beat faster. Your soul will soar. You’ll also feel a little intimidated.
Your mind will also feel left out and will want to get involved and talk you out of it. Just swat it away like an irritating fly. Your mission does not have to be 100% rational. It just has to be true for you.
Knowing your mission doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. It’s not an insurance policy for perfection. Having a mission doesn’t guarantee you will fully achieve it, either. But your mission will be a powerful motivator for how you take each step forward, with intention and purpose.
And it won’t suck.