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Mission building - work worth doing.

"Everyone has a specific vocation or mission in life . . . therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it." - Viktor Frankl

Mention the words "paradigm," "vision" or "mission" and eyes glaze over and minds switch to neutral. Current commercials use these words in a humorous, sometimes mocking manner to sell a method of leadership services. Maybe you've seen the cartoon depicting the Israelites gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai as Moses stands before them, tablets in hand, after journeying back from his life-changing experience. One impatient, disgruntled follower turns to another and says, "Oh no, not another mission statement."

That may accurately sum up the feelings of many people who have been subjected to the misuse of the mission process. If the goal of the mission process is to provide little more than a display advertisement, then a mission's positive effect will be lost, and it can even be harmful. This leads us to the question, "Why should we develop, build and maintain personal and corporate missions?"

Vision vs. Mission

To understand this question, we must understand the difference between vision and mission. Many years ago, a friend of mine who works for a highly creative international company clearly made the distinction between the two. He said that when lines between vision and mission become unclear, the firm's work teams remind themselves that "vision is direction and mission is focus." If the outcome takes you in the direction you want to go, then you are following your vision. If your goals define a closer compass course to that direction, then you are effectively accomplishing your mission. Think of mission as a navigational aid that brings focus to the direction we want to go.

Your vision may be to become the acknowledged leader in your marketplace - the prosperous foundry everyone points to as a model of quality, stability and customer satisfaction. Mission is the statement of how you are working to become that foundry - an umbrella under which every positive, customer-driven initiative can be grouped. That said, there are many situations in which it is possible, and more effective, to combine vision and mission into one statement. This may seem contradictory, but with careful thought, teamwork and wordsmithing, direction and focus alloyed together give exponential strength to our purpose.

Leading and Learning

In his work on "learning organizations," Peter Senge details the role of leaders in building "shared vision." In an article entitled "The Leader's New Work," Senge states that "leaders are designers, teachers and stewards. These roles require new skills: the ability to build shared vision, to bring to the surface and challenge prevailing mental models and to foster more systematic patterns of thinking. In short, leaders in learning organizations are responsible for building organizations where people are continually expanding their capacities to shape their future - that is, leaders are responsible for learning."

Mission building, then, is a learning process that frees our creative ability and expands future opportunities. Personal and corporate missions bring into focus our purpose and assist in the effective use of human and capital resources. Without question, mission building requires visionary leadership in an atmosphere of trust. The trust relationship promotes an organization "where people are continually expanding their capabilities to shape the future."

Creating a Future

Steven Covey has said, "the best way to predict your future is to create it." So why should we build and maintain a mission? The answer is: to define purpose and make that purpose a reality. Sharpening mission focus promotes "life long learning," and challenges us to be the best we can be.

While it may seem out of place in this forum, one dramatic example of the positive effect of mission building can be found in the life of Viktor Frankl. As a Jewish psychologist imprisoned by the Nazis in Auschwitz in 1939, Frankl's mission was to survive, help others and learn from the experience. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl wrote that those who survived the ordeal had a sense of purpose for the future. "The prisoner who had lost faith in the future, his future was doomed," he wrote. "With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay."

Hopefully, our circumstance will never be as desperate as Frankl's. But the value of the principle he detailed is valid in our corporate lives. We have the ability to create our future. Mission is the means to do it.

Like the stone tablets Moses received at Mt. Sinai, a mission statement will be just words unless their meaning and concepts become an effective part of our personal and corporate lives. This can and should be a life-changing experience for our organizations and, most of all, the people who breath life into them. Yes, this will require work, but it is work worth doing.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Foundry Society, Inc.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:part 1
Author:Barnhard, Dwight
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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