There are two questions that can gauge the impact you have as a leader. Two questions that you should listen for as warning signs that the culture in your workplace is not effective.
- What would he/she do?
This question implies that they are thinking about how you would like things done. It indicates that your direction may be too prescriptive. This question squelches creative thinking. Listen for it and be humble enough to gather a few folks around you and talk about the ramifications.
- Is this good enough?
My daughter and I were on a mission the other day, a mission to clean my truck. We were both heavily engaged in all aspects of cleaning: scrubbing, washing, soap fights, vacuuming, interior wipe down, and finally, the windows. She asked me this very question after she finished wiping down the dashboard. I wanted to tell her, “Yes honey, great job,” as I know she was seeking my approval. Instead I asked her a question, “Would you want the president sitting in this car right now?” She thought for a minute and said yes. I told her that was good, then I asked her if it was ready for her mother. That got a longer pause, but an eventual yes. Then I knew it was ready! “Is this good enough” is an approval seeking question. It implies that people are onboard with you, but maybe not the mission. If the mission is what people are after, you may still have to guide them and send them back to fix something, but it will be with purpose — not so you can be pleased.
There are four culture-building cornerstones that will lead to a mission driven culture that leverages individual creativity to accomplish the mission. These four cornerstones come with four key behaviors or beliefs that shape the culture.
- Your mission is good.
This doesn’t mean that you mission is written well and has been through some very talented marketing hands. It means that your mission is good-hearted. Your mission must be to make a difference; make this world a better place for someone in some way. Many publicly traded companies’ mission statements focus on shareholder value. I think that’s ok, but if padding pockets is all there is, good luck getting people to truly engage. That kind of culture will be filled with clock punchers. Make it count. And if the pockets get padded, great, more opportunity to make a difference. The characteristic that comes with a good mission is big dreams. A great mission will produce big dreams from those who are onboard. There will have to be a practical side to things; no one gets excited about padding pockets, but they do when they know there is a big dream involved.
- You can do anything you put your mind to.
This is an old and arguably untrue statement. Regardless of how bad I will ever want to have a child, I cannot. No matter how much I put my mind to it, that is not going to happen. I am a man, through and through, born that way and will stay that way. No birthing babies for me. However, I did get married, and now have three children. So there may be some things that are physically impossible for you, but if they are part of your great mission, you will find a way to get past whatever obstacles are in your way. Chris Walden and I have written about this many times already — your “why” power can take you to places that you didn’t even know you could get to. Why is important and it is directly related to your mission? Since you know you can do anything you put your mind to, you must take risks. Might you fail? Of course, and so what? That is not the point. The point is why you are doing it. Failure means that you have to either persevere in that direction or find another way. Taking risks is the only way to accomplish the mission. No risk, no success.
- You already have everything you need to accomplish your goal.
Really? I already have everything? In a way, yes. You have the earth, air, and water. Everything in the natural world is created from these elements. Look at the iPhone. It is a simple but absolutely amazing device. You can break down the iPhone into hardware and software. The hardware, if broken down, came from the earth. Metallic components and polymer mixes of sorts. The software came partially from the earth and mostly from creative thinking. Every human going back to the very first one has the ability to think creatively. Sometimes they just need the right encouragement and the right environment. You might be saying that you don’t have the right education, training, or experience. Maybe not, but if you have the right mission, you can progressively obtain the missing pieces.
- You are significant
This cornerstone is the most challenging to balance. There are two sides people fall on when it comes to their significance. One side is he ‘no, I am not’ thoughts, and the other is, ‘you’re darn right I am.’ Both have traps and can absolutely kill a mission and ruin a culture. There are really two characteristics related to significance: humility and service. Humility is challenging in and of itself, but it begins with understanding that you do have some gifts, but you don’t have all gifts. Tied to that is the understanding that your gifts are natural, you were born with them. You didn’t do anything to obtain them nor did do anything specific to deserve them. Your gifts are uniquely tied to your mission in life.
This brings us back to the first cornerstone. Your gifts, if used to pad your pocketbook, are wasted. That may sound a bit harsh, but here’s the thing. If you use your padded pocketbook to provide resources for other people’s missions that are making a difference, then your ultimate mission is to make a difference, which is very good. If your gifts are being used so you can have enough stuff to find happiness, I hate to break it to you, but that is not a good mission.
The truth is that we can never have enough stuff to make us happy. Happiness is circumstantial and not based solely on stuff or money. Your gifts, well used, can bring something far more than happiness, they can bring you joy. Joy is foundational, not something that can be shaken by something like money. Joy that comes from using your gifts to serve a mission that makes a difference will last a lifetime and weather many of life’s storms. Are you significant? Yes, but your significance is not for yourself; it is meant to be used to serve and serve well.
If you have a great mission, understand that you can accomplish anything, know that you have everything you need to get it done, and realize that your significance is a gift, then you are on your way. As a leader, however, you know that it doesn’t stop with you. Leadership is about impact — impacting people and circumstances around you is a gift you have as a leader. If you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t be in your role, so don’t doubt your significance as a leader, embrace it.
How might you use these four cornerstones to make a difference and change the world around you? Gather your immediate leadership team or just a few friends at work and read this together. Talk amongst yourselves about the four cornerstones and come up with ideas about how you can leverage them. Whether you are the CEO or a service line employee, you can make a difference in this world, and that is a mission that can be accomplished regardless if you work out of a corner office or a cubicle. Let the questions of what would he do and is it good enough be indicators that the cornerstones of your culture might need reinforcement.