I talk with employees all the time who are a bit lost on this concept of “mission.” They can’t bring anything to mind when I ask them what the mission of their company might be, and it doesn’t seem to have any relevance to their job even if there was one.

This is a problem.

Honestly, I don’t really care if you call it a purpose or mission or values or goal. I don’t mind if it doesn’t have a name at all. And I don’t care if it’s in highly refined words which precisely capture in a beautifully wordsmithed paragraph.

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I heard an interesting article on the Innovation Hub radio show recently, talking about how riskiness affects people’s decisions. It got me thinking, because I’ve wondered for many years about the connection.

When we’re working on connecting our products and marketing to the customer need, we often start with their needs and desires. The customer desires a phone which is functional and attractive, with long battery life and easy-to-use apps.

That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s a pretty surface-level way of thinking.

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I was recently asked about what to do when it feels like you need to change the core purpose of your business. Another person answered that “your core purpose is always to return money to your shareholders, that never changes.”

I believe that attitude is fifty years out of date.

Sure, if you choose to create a company which is merely about extracting money from your customers and giving it to your investors, fine. But that’s not the people I’m working with.

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We’ve all been learning things during our entire lives. That’s called experience, and it’s what helps you build valuable skills and teach others.

But wisdom is more subtle than just stuff you know.

It’s about putting choices into a larger context: namely, your values. And the values of the larger community you operate within.

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How single-minded are you? How focused is your business?

I view this attribute as a continuum, ranging from spineless to monomaniacal. But I’m liking the concept of being fierce, because it combines elements of focus, intensity, and persistence.

So what does it mean to be fierce in your leadership?

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I’ve seen a growing number of conversations recently about certain industries which tend to be collaborative. Here in northern Colorado, one of the most popular is the micro-breweries, who tend to be open, sharing, and generous. 

That might seem odd because there’s a high concentration of these businesses here, but it’s still the mindset of how they work. It’s attractive, energetic, and creative.

Others have noticed that our community of startups seems to be MUCH more collaborative here than in, say, the San Francisco Bay Area. When people travel there, they notice that the environment seems much more competitive and protective.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if plans always worked? But they don’t.

The problem, of course, is that Reality continues to do what it wants, despite the best planning. It sure would be nice if the rest of the world lined up the way I want, but rarely does it work out that way.

So why bother? Why not just spend every moment just responding to whatever’s thrown my way, with all the cleverness and energy I can muster?

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You may not notice, but everything you do as a leader is affecting your people. If you’re having a lousy day, your folks pick that up and will reflect it by being brittle and tense.

Which then affects customers and everybody else.

But you also don’t want to live life behind a mask, right? Just put on the “inspiring, confident leader” face 24/7?

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Leadership is weird.

We’re stuck in this space of always striving, always reaching. Never satisfied with the status quo.

But that wears people out – physically, emotionally, intellectually. So what’s the difference between a leader who uses this effectively, versus just burning people out?

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I was listening to a great conversation with Ed and Peter Schein recently. They threw out a powerful concept:

“Accountability and transparency are needed when you don’t have trust and openness.”

Since I’m a fan of both trust and transparency, this challenged my thinking. But I think they have a great point which is worth exploring.

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