May 25, 2017
Continuing my rant on “mission statements by committee,” Memorial Day is around the corner here in the United States — a time for recalling our honored war dead with parades, speeches, and picnics. Before our Civil War it was known as “Decoration Day” in some parts of the country; an occasion to spruce up community cemeteries after the ravages of winter and welcome summer with a “picnic on the grounds.” There were always speeches and war dead, I suppose, but it was not as political as it is now. I mentioned some classic company slogans in the previous blog and that got me thinking about famous rallying cries. Long before there were cars to put bumper stickers on, smart leaders realized you had to get the “mission statement” down to just a few easy-to-remember words if you wanted to keep your followers. Would Americans have supported entering “The Great War” [now relegated to World War 1] if it had not been sold to them as “the war to end all wars”? Perhaps, as we had followed “Remember the Maine” into an empire-building conflict less than 20 years before. Good leaders understand that people need reminders of why they have to persevere through tough times. Companies have hard times too, periods where it is easy to question the mission and wonder if it is worth the trouble anymore. Perhaps some goals are no longer viable because of market or technology changes. There is nothing inspiring about sticking to a product for which there is no longer a market, but someone needs to lead the organization in a new direction or years of hard work will wither away quickly. Our industry has changed a great deal over my tenure. Once-large companies are either completely gone or exist as a shadow of their former selves. Amazing tenacity and visionary leaders have transformed others into strong competitors for the future. Sometimes the difference is finding the right words to inspire that extra effort, to nurture that new product, and to assure people that the future can be enjoyed instead of endured. Or as one famous orator insisted, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” What should your organization’s rallying cry be?