How Three Questions Can Change the Way You Lead — And our First Freebie

How Three Questions Can Change the Way You Lead — And our First Freebie
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When was the last time you paid any attention to your school’s, business’, or organization’s mission statement?  In fact, you might be struggling to recall whether or not there even is a mission statement.  And who cares, right?  It’s just a statement after all, it’s not like it supposed to make a difference in our day-to-day lives.  Or should it?

Before the last few years, I never spent much time thinking too much about the mission of any organization I was associated with or for whom I was working.  This is partly because no one taught me to care, but also because no one else seemed to care.  Since then I’ve learned that ignoring the power of the mission statement is missing an opportunity to lead in powerful ways around things with which we care deeply.

“…it’s in our day to day decisions that we needed to be reminded about what makes us tick as a leader not just when looking for a new job.”

Still, for most of us, we lack the pay-grade or the political authority to change, influence, or even renew our organization’s mission, and if the people that are in-charge of this care little, then it’s hard to suddenly change the culture (although not impossible).

So what about an area that you do have say-so and influence over?  No, not your department or leadership team, but yourself.  Do you have a mission statement that influences the way you work on a daily basis?  I started thinking about this question a few years back, as I started applying for leadership positions at various schools. I found that it was inevitable in almost every interview that someone would ask me to describe my leadership philosophy, or the “what-makes-you-tick-as-a-leader” kind of question.  (Need some inspiration for your next job search check out What to do When Your Job Search is a Bust). 

This is an important question and hopefully something you’ve thought about, because essentially the question is asking you to describe your personal mission statement.  Although statements can be a little convoluted and  limiting, since my mission as leader seems too important and filled with meaning to squish into a simple phrase.

Like most people, once I landed my leadership position at a school, people stopped asking me this question.  If you think about it, this is unfortunate because it’s in our day to day decisions that we needed to be reminded about what makes us tick as a leader not just when looking for a new job.  Inevitably, I didn’t think too much about it until I came across Warren Berger’s thoughts about mission statements in his book A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.  He says,

“It’s assumed that a declarative “statement” makes a company seem confident, more, sure of its mission, more determined.  But mission statements tend to have a different effect.  They often sound arrogant.  They come across as not quite credible.  They seem “corporate” and “official,” which also means they’re a bit stiff.  Often they’re banal pronouncements (We save people money so they can live better –Walmart) or debatable assertions (Yahoo! is the premier digital media company) that don’t offer much help in gauging whether a company is actually living up to a larger goal or purpose.  And sometimes they sound as if they’re saying the mission has already been accomplished. and now the company is just in maintenance mode.  In these dynamic times, it seems appropriate to take that static statement and transform it into a more open-ended, fluid mission question that can still be ambitious (replacing, for example, We make the world a better place through robotics! with How might we make the world a better place through  robotics?).  By articulating the company mission as a question, it tells the outside world, “This is what we’re striving for–we know we’re not there yet, but we’re on the journey.”  It acknowledges room for possibility, change, and adaptability.”

A question?  What a great idea.  So instead of the what-makes-me-tick-as-a-leader statement, try to think of what questions make you tick as a leader.

For me, the answer to this questions resides in three ares community, developing others, and innovation.  Why three and not four?  Well because great things come in three, for instance,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson


“I am the way, the truth, and the life”  Jesus

So, unless you want to take it up with Jesus, I’m gonna argue that three is a good a number.

So here’s my three questions:

  1. How are we helping to build a caring and connected community?
  2. How are we growing our students and faculty to be innovators, entrepreneurs, and risk takers?
  3. How are we developing the talents of our teachers and future leaders?

Notice my questions aren’t just about me, they’re about we, which is also an important part of my leadership mission/philosophy.

So Now What?

It’s hard to argue with the value of articulating a mission question, if I say so myself, but if that’s all that comes of this activity, I think you’re missing an opportunity.  Like any good question or statement, the next step is PR!  No, not just for others to see, but so that you know and are reminded of what you value.

So here’s what I’ve done.  I’ve taken my questions and placed them over top of some pretty pictures from around my campus.  I’ve even gone the extra step of highlighting the three themes that are important to me as a leader.  Take a look:

The next step is to print them out and post them where I, and others, can see them.  Now I realize that we are all busy people so instead of ending this post here and telling you to go do it yourself, I’ll do you one better by offering my first freebie at Learn[ed]Leadership.  I’ve made the files available for you download to add your own mission question and pictures, and a set of super-easy instruction for doing so.  All you have to do to access it is sign up for our monthly (or so) newsletter in the box below.  Do it!

From there, you have lots of options for printing the images including using your organizations fancy color printer, submitting them to an online printer service like Shutterfly, or just send them to Costco like I did.  If you want to see what the photos look like on my wall check out our Facebook page (um, and like it while you’re there) where I’ve posted a picture.

An Added Benefit

So, as I hope you can see taking the time to craft your mission questions can be a great and powerful exercise, but here’s an added benefit…just think about how powerful it will be next time you’re interviewing for a job and the good ole’ “what-makes-you-tick-as-a-leader” question comes up.  Not only can you give three memorable and important questions, but you can share that how you’re reminded by these questions everyday because they’re hanging on your wall.  Your Hired!

So what do you think?  Questions instead of statements a good idea?  Did you download the pictures, did my instructions work.  Tell us in the comments below.

If you’re new to Learn[ed]Leadership and you like interesting stuff then make sure to sign up for our free monthly (or so) newsletter by clicking here or in the fancy box to your top right.  Or if you want immediate updates on all things Learn[ed]Leadership Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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1 Comment

  1. Goes back to the a, b, c’s.


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