Leading with a mission

Four tips to inspire teams.

June 25, 2012   by Chris Bart

Imagine you just earned your first leadership assignment in a plant environment. You get to know your employees but after a while you realize the people who report to you aren’t following the company’s new mission statement: “Amaze and delight each and every customer, internal and external.”

You try to be inventive and you encourage them to change, but they don’t.

Sound familiar?

The following four essential acts form the basis for strong leadership. Apply them to capture the hearts and minds of the people you lead.

Give specific direction. To make effective contributions, employees need to know what they have to do. Clear direction ensures a sense of purpose. Translate the words in the mission statement so employees see specifically how their job connects with it.

Practice open, frequent and focused communications. Social scientists estimate the typical person receives 17,000 messages per day. To make the messages in your company’s mission stand out, relentlessly repeat and reinforce.

Speak from the heart. When a leader speaks about the organization’s mission statement and what it means, employees will judge whether there is real commitment and understanding from the top. Interspersing key words and phrases from the mission into everyday conversations proves it’s not just a flavour-of-the-month program.

Lead by example. Look for ways to reinforce the priorities through your own behaviour. Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines, would routinely fly his airline while performing the duties of a flight attendant. He wanted his crews to see first hand what the boss meant by “the company’s stated mission of providing ‘the highest quality customer service.” Employees are also looking for leadership that inspires them. Ensure your behaviour sends the right message to reinforce the strategic direction.

Measure success and give rewards on the basis of the mission. What gets rewarded gets done, but many organizations that claim to be “mission driven” don’t measure their progress and fail to reward employees for helping to realize objectives. Align all systems and processes with the statement, including hiring, firing, promotions, bonuses and salary adjustments.

Following these four essential acts will unleash the incredible potential that exists in almost every person who works for you and capture the competitively essential, but often elusive, mission mystique.

Chris Bart is the author of the mission implementation and leadership book, “A Tale of two employees and the person who wanted to lead them,” one of the top 10 best selling business books in Canada for nine consecutive years. Visit

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This article appears in the May/June 2012 edition of PLANT.

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