Peter M. Senge

The dictionary — which, unlike the computer, is an essential leadership tool — contains multiple definitions of the word mission; the most appropriate here is, “purpose, reason for being.” Vision, by contrast, is “a picture or image of the future we seek to create,” and values articulate how we intend to live as we pursue our mission. Paradoxically, if an organization’s mission is truly motivating it is never really achieved. Mission provides an orientation, not a checklist of accomplishments. It defines a direction, not a destination. It tells the members of an organization why they are working together, how they intend to contribute to the world. Without a sense of mission, there is no foundation for establishing why some intended results are more important than others.

But, there is a big difference between having a mission statement and being truly mission-based. To be truly mission-based means that key decisions can be referred back to the mission — our reason for being. It means that people can and should object to management edicts that they do not see as connected to the mission…In most organizations, no one would dream of challenging a management decision on the grounds that it does not serve the mission. In other words, most organizations serve those in power rather than a mission.

[The mission] says rather, that the source of legitimate power in the organization is its guiding ideas…The cornerstone of a truly democratic system of governance is not voting or any other particular mechanism. It is the belief that power ultimately flows from ideas, not people. To be truly mission-based is to be democratic in this way, to make the mission more important than the boss, something that not too many corporations have yet demonstrated an ability to do.

While mission is foundational, it is also insufficient because, by its nature, it is extraordinarily difficult to assess how we are doing by looking only at the mission. For this we need to stick our necks out and articulate “an image of the future we seek to create.” Results-oriented leaders, therefore, must have both a mission and a vision. Results mean little without purpose, for a very practical and powerful reason: a mission instills both the passion and the patience for the long journey. While vision inspires passion, many failed ventures are characterized by passion without patience.

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