Developing Your Personal Mission Statement
By Mark Hooey and Tom Alafat, from FMI Quarterly
Knowing your purpose in life is bedrock to your professional and personal development. In order to lead others well, we must first lead ourselves. First, discover ourselves and then authentically express who we are. Creating a personal mission statement provides a compass and points you in the direction you want to go.
Having a personal mission is an essential ingredient of excellent and great leadership. Your personal mission statement helps provide purpose, guidance, wisdom and power, and defines your reason for being. The statement is like a personal constitution — providing a basis for decision-making and standards by which to live.
As leaders, we perform many tasks and juggle multiple priorities. We need clear direction to help us manage all the uncertainty and daily challenges that confront us. A personal mission provides us with guidance when making decisions. Every decision we make should align with our personal mission. In this way, our mission acts like a compass, always pointing us in the right direction. A personal mission statement can keep you focused on what really matters in your life, both professionally and personally. It clarifies the fundamental philosophy and personal values under which you wish to operate. Your mission is different from a goal. Goals are often the steps you take while working to fulfill your mission. For example, you may have a goal of “developing coaching skills” as a piece of your overall mission to “build leaders in my organization, my family and my community.”
Writing a Personal Mission Statement
Writing a personal mission statement is a powerful exercise in taking ownership of your life. You may be climbing the corporate ladder, but you need to make sure the ladder is leaning against the correct building. In other words, is your life going in the desired direction?
Consider the mission statement, “My mission is to encourage, in myself and others, personal development, creativity and innovation in all areas of work and life.” This statement clearly defines the direction in which the individual is going. In the workplace, this may involve coaching employees and developing one’s own leadership skills. It may also mean a greater focus on creativity and product innovation to meet the growing needs of the organization. In this individual’s personal life, it may result in the pursuit of creative and innovative hobbies or raising children with these values. In each case, there is a clearly defined direction for his or her current and future actions.
Writing a personal mission statement helps align your time and talents with what is most important to you. A written mission statement gives you the confidence that you are spending your time in the best possible way. Alignment of your activities and your values is energizing!
The statement, “My mission is to encourage, in myself and others, personal development, creativity and innovation in all areas of my work and life,” will enable this individual to identify activities that encourage personal development, creativity and innovation. Coaching employees or Little League may be more meaningful for this person, for example, than spending the same amount of time writing memos or mowing the lawn. There is no right or wrong activity, except within the context of your mission. Your mission articulates what is “right” for you.
In addition to providing direction, your personal mission statement will become the means to achieve great fulfillment and satisfaction. Knowing and living your mission not only enables you to perform and achieve results, but also is a source of inspiration and excitement—your fuel for continued achievement.
A person with a mission to “encourage, in myself and others, personal development, creativity and innovation in all areas of my work and life” will be excited to go to work in the morning if he or she is able to implement new ideas.
How to Write a Personal Mission Statement
OK, so you are ready to write your personal mission statement. Where should you begin? It is important you seek to detect your mission and not invent it. You are going through a process of discovering your mission. Your mission is unique to you. Here is a six-step process that will help you articulate your mission or your “reason for being”:
STEP 1—Set aside some time in a quiet place where you will be able to concentrate and reflect.
Writing a mission statement is neither easy nor instant. It is not an event, but rather a process. Think of the mission statement as a living document that will grow with you over time as you reflect on it and refine it.
STEP 2—Answer questions about yourself.
The words you use are not as important as the concepts. If you come up with words that do not feel quite right, look them up in a thesaurus to find similar words that may better describe you. (Keep these guidelines in mind when answering the questions on the following pages.)
Identify Your Passion: Your mission should include the things you are passionate about in life. Consider the following questions about your purpose and passion, understanding that you may have different responses for your different roles — as employee, family member or member of the community. Attempt to identify the areas where they overlap. This is where you will find the most meaning in your work and personal endeavors.
- What is most important to me?
- What makes me whisper a victorious “Yes!” when I have done it for the 100th or 1,000th time?
- What do I live for?
- What is my reason for being?
Discover Your Strengths: Your mission will involve activities that you are already good at for the benefit of yourself or others. The best leaders lead from their strengths. Do you know your strengths? We are usually blind to our true contributions because they are the things that come easily; we do not think about them. Answering the following questions may help you uncover some of these strengths:
- What do I do that causes other people to say, “You are really good at…”?
- What do I believe are my greatest strengths?
- What am I good at which I could become great?
Identify Your Values: When creating your personal mission statement, it is important to align your reason for being with what you value. Think about what you value by asking yourself:
- What activities do I consider of the greatest worth at work, at home or in the community?
- What do I stand for?
- To what group or cause would I be willing to devote my life?
Pinpoint Your Principles: Your principles are the character attributes that guide your actions. In determining your principles, consider the following questions:
- What character attributes do I admire most in other people?
- What principles—if I lived by them—would be most beneficial?
Define Your Empowering Vision: Creating a vision that identifies where you will be when you have lived your mission is a powerful motivator. Do this by considering the following questions:
- What would I want close friends to say about me on my 90th birthday?
- What character qualities are important to me?
- What difference do I want to make in the lives of others?
- What is my legacy?
Discern Your Mission: Now that you have thought about your passion, strengths, values, principles and your vision for the future, look back at what you have written and answer the following questions:
- What have I discovered about myself that is central to who I am and what I stand for?
- What is my reason for being?
- Why do I do what I do?
STEP 3—Write your mission statement.
Your answers to the three questions under the “Discern Your Mission” section represent your personal mission. Combine your final responses into a succinct statement. Consider the following:
A good mission statement should:
- Be simple enough for a child to understand
- Contain action verbs
- Be short enough to be recited from memory
- Fit you 100%
- Be inspiring, exciting, clear and engaging
- Encompass your personal and professional life
A good mission statement should not:
- Be limited to your current role
- Reflect only your “to-do” list
- Be limited by geography
- Be something totally new
- Be unattainable by you
- Reflect others’ expectations
- Imitate others’ missions
- Focus on one person
- Be trite or ordinary
STEP 4—Have others confirm your mission or challenge it.
Although it is your mission statement, you will want to solicit feedback from people who know you well. Close friends tend to know our strengths and passions and may be more aware of our mission. Others may be able to provide some insight to help you simplify or clarify your mission statement.
STEP 5—Live your mission.
Living your mission should inspire, excite and motivate you. As you focus more on activities aligned with your personal mission, you will find more fulfillments and less frustration in your daily activities. Like physical exercise, your mission is most effective when experienced as often as possible.
Look at your calendar and see if your commitments align with your mission. You may need to change some plans or add activities that blend well with your mission.
Even if you are not sure you have it quite right, try it out! The process of discovery is not complete once you have written a statement on paper. Only by making decisions that align your mission and activities will you continue to discover your mission.
STEP 6—Revisit your mission statement regularly, at least once a year, to make sure it still fits you.
Ask yourself regularly:
- Am I thriving or just surviving?
- Am I whispering a triumphant “Yes!” more often?
- Does my personal mission statement excite and inspire me?
- Am I happiest when living aligned with my mission?
If you are just surviving, or if the answer to any of these questions is “no, not really” or “not always,” then it is probably time to revisit your mission statement. Review your responses in Step 2 as well as the feedback you received and take another stab at writing your mission statement.
The more time you spend reflecting on your mission statement and revising it, the more it will truly fit you, and the more you will find the enjoyment and inspiration that comes from living out your personal mission.