A Prerequisite for Exceptional Leaders

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During the 2008 election, David Letterman took to the streets and interviewed voters.  He showed Obama supporters McCain’s positions and asked them if that’s why they were voting for Obama.  They said yes.  Then he showed McCain supporters Obama’s positions – and they too agreed that’s why they were voting for McCain.

That was a seminal moment for me.  I realized how the lack of critical thinking training and skills in this country was impacting our way of life.  Critical thinking improves the quality of your decisions and your integrity by enabling you to be informed by the thoughts of others, the evidence, and your core values. 

I taught a class on critical thinking at Belmont University as adjunct faculty for two years.  We looked at various issues in the US and applied CT skills.  Whether our classes revolved around the fight for civil rights, the power of voting, religious movements in the US, the influence of advertising, or choosing integrity, the discussions were lively and deep.  One student who went on to law school has stayed in touch and shared with me how much the class changed her perspective.

There aren’t any studies I can find that show how many people practice thinking critically.  My best estimate would be that 75-80 % of the population doesn’t practice it at any level   This is demonstrated by people who simply repeat what they’ve heard, or take a side without being able to defend their choice.  Have you ever received an email or seen a Facebook post that seems flat out wrong?  I once got one that pictured an Al Qaeda march in Michigan.  When I researched the photo, I found it was originally taken in Pakistan and then used by someone to foment fear and anger.  Those who simply forwarded it or shared it were failing to think for themselves and had a negative impact on others. 

That leaves 20-25% of the population who may be applying some critical thinking skills.  When done well, it includes researching and analyzing both sides of an issue, then looking for evidence you can observe that supports the side you think is strongest.  At the highest level, critical thinking then merges your analysis of the issues with your values and includes subjective thought.

Robert E. Lee practiced critical thinking in April1865 when he made a choice to defy President Jefferson Davis and commit what could be considered treason and insubordination when he surrendered to General Grant.  His letters gives us glimpses into his struggle between what was commanded vs. what was right. He analyzed both the arguments for surrender and for continuing the fight, looked at the evidence around him that supported both, merged his thinking with his faith, and choose to surrender.   His choice was the beginning of the end of our civil war.

As we face challenges in our companies and our country in the coming years, as leaders, we MUST learn to practice critical thinking in our own lives.  For those we work with and do life with, we must also teach and model it.  A prerequisite for exceptional leaders is encouraging discussions and debates of issues that are done with critical thinking, respect and dignity. 

Did you know Hitler won leadership over the Nazi party in 1923 by ONE vote?  How might that outcome have been different had one more person thought more deeply about his or her choice?  How could your life, your leadership, and your integrity be changed by critical thinking? 

5 Questions Lead to a Strong Business Mission Statement

JFKGuest blog by Joshua MacLeod , CEO, Riverbirch Industries

A mission helps you achieve your vision.  The following questions are designed as a guide to help you craft a mission statement for your business.

Mission Question 1 – What is your function to society: How do others classify your business?

The Apollo mission was a government program but her primary function was to boost business growth. The competition to create a better rocket inspired countless numbers of scientists and engineers to develop new technologies driving innovation and boosting the U.S. economy. The following lists may help categorize your business function.

A business might be formed around basic necessities such as:

  • Food, Water, Shelter, Clothes, Medicine, Justice

or cultural spheres such as:

  • Family, Religion, Education, Media communications. Celebration (Arts & Entertainment),, Economy (Innovation, Science, Technology, Productivity, Sales, Service)

Entrepreneurs need to be careful not to exaggerate the uniqueness of their product. Even if your product is building a rocket that goes to the moon and back, it still provides a basic function to society such as boosting business growth.

Mission Question 2 – Who is your target customer? Who is most deeply impacted by the goods or service you provide?

The race with the Soviet Union provided motivation for an entire generation of entrepreneurs to work hard, be creative and attempt great things for their countries. For President Kennedy however, this race had a target customer. Whereas putting a man on the moon was a big step for mankind, it was a giant leap for America. The program developed circuit board technology that would be later used in computers. It produced satellite technology that would later become GPS. America had a technological revolution. The U.S. invested ten times more into the space program than Russia and it paid off. Remembering your target customer will greatly boost your business.

Mission Question 3 – What problem does your mission solve?What is the need that your product or service addresses?

President Kennedy’s speech that cumulated in a quest for a lunar landing began with a rally for freedom. “These are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause.” Mr. Kennedy painted a picture of growing hostility from the Soviet Union and the steps necessary to retain an economic and military edge. It’s always important to remind your customer of the problem before you offer a solution.

The space program was more than an adventure; it was a symbol of advancement. No one wanted a war. Here was an opportunity to show the resolve of the American people without a conflict. Reminding the American people of the problem created the synergy necessary to motivate the American people to buy into President Kennedy’s solution.

Mission Question 4 – What are your benefits? What makes your product or service unique and how does it improve your customer’s life?

It is often that case that a business owner will highlight the many features of his or her product rather than the benefits the features create. When the Apollo 11 sent a man to the moon and back, the American people were not talking about how the rocket contained a Saturn 5 liquid cooled three-stage launch vehicle; they were talking about how they beat the Russians. The features of your product are only interesting to a customer when they produce a helpful result. Being able to list a benefit for every feature of your product or service is an important step in growing your business.

Mission Question 5 – How do you measure results? Are you doing the right things? What are the tangible outcomes for your efforts?

As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stuck an American flag in the moon, an estimated 600 million people watched on television. Mission accomplished! The symbol for freedom was complete and the world was watching. This event was one of the many ways that the American people would measure their accomplishment. Additional measurements would include financial growth in business and technology sectors.

One of the best management thinkers of our time Peter Drucker states: “What’s measured improves”. If a goal doesn’t have anything to measure it cannot be achieved. All businesses need to measure the result of their mission. 600 million people watching an American flag placed on the moon is not a bad return on investment.

What is your mission?

Once you consider these five questions you can begin working on your mission statement. A mission statement is simply a summary of your thoughts when considering these questions. Mission statements will look as different as the organizations they represent. They should reflect your function to society, your target customer, problems solved, benefits and how you measure results. Your mission statement should not be long. A good goal is to have your mission statement able to be written in 140 characters or less (something you can tweet).

Here is a template to get you started:

  • Our mission is to provide this function to society:
  • Benefiting this target customer:
  • Solving this problem:
  • Providing these benefits:
  • Toward this result:

A further helpful exercise is to develop a tag from your mission statement. A tag is an even shorter summary or slogan for your company that can be stated in 10 words or less.

If you have a completed mission statement for your business, please post in the comments of this blog with a link to your business.

In my next blog I will discuss creating value statements for your organization.You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter by sending an email to Joshua@plantabusiness.net

This article is designed to help you grow a creative, sustainable and impactful organization. I hope you find it helpful. If you want even better wisdom for your business, remember that wisdom has a source. James 1:5