Organizations typically have a mission statement. This statement is a short phrase or sentence that sums up why the organization exists and what it aims to contribute to the world. Productive leaders also should have a personal mission statement – a short phrase or sentence that sums up why they exist and what they contribute to the world.
Your personal mission statement should be consistent with how you want to be viewed by others. It should provide direction to your life, and it should give you something to strive for. A personal mission is something that you can evaluate your actions and decisions against.
My personal mission is “to help others achieve full and satisfying lives.” Earlier in my life, I fulfilled this mission performing search-and-rescue missions, participating in counternarcotics law-enforcement patrols, and training and mentoring others in the U.S. Coast Guard.
The act of writing a book on productive leadership is aligned with my mission. If I’ve done a good job, then people who read my book and apply what they read will lead more-fulfilling and satisfying lives. I hope that the lives of people whom they lead will be fuller and satisfying, as well. In my consulting projects and workshops, I do my best to transfer knowledge and skills. As people learn, they are more likely to improve and to achieve a more full and satisfying life.
Your personal mission statement needs to be one that makes sense to you – a mission that gets to the essence of what you’re striving to accomplish in life. To define your personal mission statement, you need to set aside some time to think about it. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to help you zero in:
- What can you be successful doing?
- What are you passionate about?
- What would give you a sense of satisfaction?
I’m 5 feet, 9 inches tall (at best). I never possessed the physical capability to play a professional sport like football, baseball, or hockey. It’s just not in the cards. Therefore, my personal mission statement has nothing to do with things I can’t possibly accomplish. A personal mission can be difficult to achieve, but it must be achievable. I know for a fact that I can and have made a difference in other people’s lives by sharing my perspectives, knowledge, and skills.
I am passionate about helping people deal with difficulties or advance their insight. Seeing light bulbs come on in people is what I’m passionate about – moments when knowledge or skills are synthesized into insight and confidence. A-ha moments.
A sense of satisfaction comes when you derive personal pleasure from something you accomplished. A few months before I retired from the Coast Guard, I had one of the most satisfying moments of my life. A chief petty officer, whom I did not recognize, appeared in my office. I asked if I could help him with something. The chief smiled and said, “You don’t recognize me, do you?” I answered: “No, I’m sorry. Where do I know you from?”
The chief explained that about 20 years earlier he was fresh out of boot camp and was assigned to my shop on board the Coast Guard Cutter SPENCER in Boston. He paid me the highest compliment when he went on to say he watched how I ran the shop and modeled his leadership style on my example. Knowing I had influenced this person who had gone on to a very successful career gave me immense self-satisfaction. It was not something that I shared with many people (before putting it in this column). It gave an inner sense of accomplishment and pride in having positively affected another person’s life.
Take some time to define your own personal mission statement. As you see by my example, it does not need to be elaborate. I’d also recommend that it be general in nature so that you can fit it into the phases of your life. It should not be constraining, but it should provide you with an anchor that you can use to evaluate your where you are in life and whether you’re living in accordance with your mission.
In the next two columns, I’ll write about your personal vision and values. I hope these explorations lead you to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.