Great leadership is the single greatest force in human history.
There are a few simple things I’ve come to believe to about leadership. For example, most leaders suck. Many of them prefer people who agree with them. Most are hard to persuade because of their ego, confidence, or simple need for confirmation bias. Most would rather see you fail than see themselves fail.
In these ways, leaders are like most of us. Isn’t my criticism in the first paragraph applicable to almost everyone you know? Even you? Definitely me.
Now, gentle readers, do not be dismayed. I like people. I like leaders. I even like NY Giants fans. (I mean, not all of them. But some of them.) Humans suck for lots of reasons I simply don’t have time for in this 4 minute read.
But just because we all suck doesn’t mean that we can’t get a little better. And nothing in our human experiment is more important than improving leadership.
Great leadership is the single greatest force in human history. There’s nothing more valuable nor influential. In a world of families, villages, towns, states, countries, corporations, religions, schools… great leaders drive culture.
This is because leadership is the business of people.
And so this one is for you leaders out there who really want to make a difference.
I’ve been a critic of Mission Statements Written On Walls* for a long time. (*NOTE: I’m not a critic of Mission Statements themselves. Especially the act of writing them — it can be a remarkably useful way to bring a team together and focus on shared values, visions, etc.)
My problem is with posting them up on your wall at your workplace or website. Yeah, I know it seems like a good idea to put the Mission Statement on the wall. It's easy to imagine that seeing it on the wall inspires your own people and attracts new partners and clients.
I actually think it does the opposite. Here's why.
Three Reasons To Take That Mission Statement Down
1. It provides cover to a**holes.
When you put a Mission Statement on the wall, no one has to change anything. No one has to act out the Mission Statement because, well, everyone is already doing it. The default IS the Mission Statement. The work is already done. Any of the weak members of your company/team/whatever can just point to the wall and say “that’s what I’m doing” no matter what they are actually doing. Don’t make it easy for those folks — they’re the last people you want to help on your team. They're why we can't have nice things.
2. It’s inefficient and unconfident.
None of you customers or clients will believe your mission statement unless your organization/company actually proves the mission through action. Writing it on the wall says "we're worried you might not know what we believe unless we write it up on the wall." Believe in your culture. Trust your people. Empower your people to BE the Mission Statement.
3. It turns your mission into a compliance order.
Every time you or your organization doesn’t measure up to your Mission Statement, your employees/members look at it and see the moral hypocrisy of your leadership. Every leader is a hypocrite at some point or another. You simply cannot be aspirational without falling short from time to time. Posting your Mission Statement can incentivize you and your people to care more about complying with the Mission Statement rather than embodying it. It makes people into lawyers on behalf of the Mission Statement (“well, you can see how we were really trying find a good solution during that colossal f**k up”) or to be harsh critics on the attack (“yeah, we believe in equality so much that so-and-so has been a jerk to every sales team member”).
This is not a new idea
As revolutionary as it might sound, ripping down that Mission Statement isn’t even a new idea. We have tons of aphorisms in our culture that speak to how it doesn't matter what you say-- it's what you do:
“If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and eats like a duck…”
“You know a fruit by it’s tree”
“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you”
When I was a kid, we used to sing this song at Bible school: “They’ll know that we are Christians by our love.” Look, I wasn’t the best kid at Bible school. But I liked the singing part. And I liked that song.
People will know your Mission Statement by how you walk, talk, and eat. No matter what you have written on your wall, they are watching and judging you. Everyone else already knows what you believe. They read it on you every time they interact with you.