Keeping a strong mission
June 25, 2008
Two former prime ministers of Canada—Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin—in an interview reflected on what success meant to them and what they might redo. [Note: Both were Liberal PMs, Chrétien in power for ten years and Martin—who pushed Chrétien out of leadership of the Liberal party—in minority leadership for two.]
Chrétien, the tough old codger, gave no room for any thought that he had been pushed around. He seemed to be appreciative of his use of power. He was tough, and dealt with the hand that was played him. No big vision: just running a government as he himself saw fit.
Martin, outvoted after a short stint in running a minority government, was captured more by great ideas: those he believed should be of compelling interest for the federal government.
It doesn't take long to learn that as much as we might have a clear plan of the coming months and years, inevitably surprises, crises, opportunities cross our path, either pushing us in new directions or so attracting our interests that they outshine what had been previously decided.
And therein lays the challenge: when is it right to abandon our well-considered plans and take a chance on new options?
The first question to ask is, is this about mission, strategy or tactics? If it is about the essence of one's call (mission), then it requires fundamental reconsideration of what we are about.
If it is about strategy, then the question is, how will this relate to our plans?
If it is about tactics, then the questions are simpler. What needs answering is how this change will work synergistically with activities?
Chrétien seemed to be about tactics. With his seeming prime concern to stay in power, he missed opportunities vital to the good of the country. Martin seemed to have so many missions that strategy was vague and in the end he lost his ability to lead.
Mission needs sufficient breadth to handle the future. If too narrow, disasters or opportunities may derail. For example, if one's mission is to explore space, going to Mars is not a strategy. If Mars becomes inaccessible, the mission isn't called into question, the strategy is. The mission is wide enough to handle inadvertent matters.
The future throws at us bizarre and wonderful realities beyond anticipation. Caught with a narrow or fuzzy mission, we might end up grabbing at what seems to work and run about by what comes our way. The value of a strong mission differentiates what comes our way—allowing one to ask, is it about mission, strategy or tactics?
Father, Lord and Spirit, God in Three, all knowing of now and then, may the wisdom of your eternal knowing be ours today as we sift through the surprises, disappointments and opportunities, so discernment will guide our response. In your strong Name, Amen.
People discover and respond to the future as much as they plan it.