The Power of Mission

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Mission motivates us. It gets us out of bed in the morning.

Mission can take many forms. It can be related to your job, your sport or your family and much more besides.

It could be making millions or helping those who have fallen on hard times.

People consumed by mission do more. Achieve more. Go further.

If you don’t have a mission, then ensuring you are moving in the right direction is pot luck. A mission does not dictate the specifics of what you are doing right now, tomorrow or the day after. However, everything you are doing or commencing should be aligned to your mission. If it’s not, then how can you can make your mission a reality?

I discussed an approach to undertaking lofty ambitions in my last post Stars & Cloud Theory, I believe that the pursuit of the stars or even the clouds is impossible without a clear mission.

A mission keeps you going when you’re having a bad day. It can be considered your north star that leads you forward. A mission is your backbone. It is what you turn to when you are unsure what step to take. With a clear mission, you have a context and background to frame every choice you make. An apparent uncertainty is superceded by clarity of thought, providing the discipline and motivation to execute.

So what does a mission look like?

A mission is strategic. Lest anyone conflate the terms “mission” and “plan”, a mission is not tied to any one outcome or event. It does not have to be timebound, although it can be finite. It can span years or even a lifetime. On a similar vein, a goal is something which is very specific and has an associated deadline, whereas a mission allows failures to occur without the end game being jeopardised. A mission must align to your values. There is no point in having a mission to emulate Gordon Gekko while believing that global wealth redistribution is necessary.

Here are some examples that come to mind when I think of “mission”:

  • Establishing a colony on Mars – Elon Musk
  • “Knocking Liverpool off their perch” and dominating English Soccer – Alex Ferguson & Man Utd
  • Advocating and working on behalf of the poor and the misfortunate – Fr. Peter McVerry
  • Being a loving father/mother – Various

I like the word “mission” because it imbues a sense of action and urgency. When I hear the word mission, imagery of astronauts in space or soldiers on a battle field is evoked. Too often, particularly in the business world, “mission” is followed by “statement”, this then leads to empty sloganeering to satisfy some corporate “About” page on a website. These empty words may be referred to as a reference point but they should not be construed as “the mission”.

A mission works best if it is unambiguous and not limiting:

  • “Establish a colony on Mars” is specific but not to the extent that it pre-determines what a colony represents or how it should be achieved.
  •  If the mission is to “defeat the enemy” then there will always be a new enemy so you will never rest on your laurels.
  • If the mission is to “cure cancer”, then your mission is not complete until every form of cancer is eradicated, providing a consistent focus to your work.

Having a mission implies having systems to execute your mission, I will expand on developing and executing various systems in future posts. One such system I have described previously that you might find useful is how I prevent distractions during the workday.

Although you should be clear on your mission at all times, it doesn’t need to be immutable. You can always change your mission and re-focus. While a change in mission is necessary and sometimes unavoidable, it should be done as quickly as possible. Any ambiguity makes every decision harder.

Challenging yourself and the mission that you have is a healthy and useful exercise. Many of us suffer from confirmation bias. That being, we constantly seek more and more reasons why we are right. However it only takes one example to prove us wrong.

If you are afraid or worried that your world will be turned upside down by having one example contradict your world view, then you need more challenge in your life. No one can tell you what your mission should be. By necessity, it must be personal to you but you should be open to road testing it, sharing it and welcoming feedback from those closest to you. As I opened with, it needs to excite and energise you. Uncertainty is natural, particularly about something so significant but that uncertainty should only be temporary and not allowed to linger. Otherwise, a period of stasis will ensue.

Any highly functioning, high performing team that I have been part of has had a clear mission. Everyone was on the same page singing from the same hymn sheet. It is not possible for a group of people to operate together at their peak without a clarity of purpose and a mission binding them. Without a common, shared and consistently understood mission, their associated actions will not be made in a consistent mutually beneficial fashion.

My current stance on whether you should have a single mission or multiple missions is that you should only have one. Having more than one mission undermines your clarity of purpose. One cannot be all things to all people.

Some people may insist that they can have one personal mission and one professional mission and many do. In the short term, this is contradictory. In the long term, this is destructive. Say you want to be the best father in the world to your children (personal mission) and you want to be the best CEO in the world of the multi-billion dollar business you run (professional mission), clearly there is a contradiction. Inevitably, sacrifices must be made in pursuit of your mission. It boils down to personal decisions and priorities. Having differing and potentially divergent personal and professional missions will grate away at you. It will wear you down. A personal and professional mission symbiosis is optimal.

So what is your mission?

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