What is Your Mission?

We have all had or been part of a mission at some point in our lives.

The mission may have been something relatively small and personal, or maybe bigger like getting your own house. Maybe you were part of a team working on a mission that no one person could have achieved on their own.

When a mission is big, a mission statement is often created and displayed for everyone to see. Smaller personal missions may only exist in your head.

A mission revolves around three key questions:

  • What do you do?
  • Why do you do it?
  • Who do you do it for?

So a mission statement describes the current situation while at the same time identifying the purpose of the mission.

How do I know this?

During my 27-year career in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), the Navy went through some major changes.

In 1980 it seemed to me as a new recruit that the predominant style of leadership was autocratic, “do as I say, do it now and don’t ask any questions”. This style of leadership was not just part of the initial training – it continued when I was posted to my first ship.

The lower deck workers or junior ratings knew who they worked for, were told what to do and didn’t know much more about the mission they were a part of.

The middle deck or senior ratings knew what had to be done, who to get it done by and had a fair inkling as to why it needed to be done.

The upper deck or officers, knew mostly why it had to be done, a fair bit of the what was done, and delegated who did it to the senior ratings.

This system had worked well in the past when there were plenty of sailors on ships to get things done.

Within the first decade of my career, government budget cuts reduced the number of sailors in the RNZN significantly through a process of natural attrition. People had to wear several hats, work longer and harder, and cracks soon began to show.

The RNZN was not a happy work environment at that time.

Old traditions like rum issue at midday began to disappear, which may have had some effect on moral also.

The RNZN was beginning to change the way they did business.

At about this time I began to form my own mission.  Crew superyachts, get good pay and an adventurous life, working for the rich and wealthy.

I wanted to quit Navy life, reboot and start a new life. Instead of quitting outright, my Chief suggested I hedge my bets.

I needed to be able to say to future employers, “this is what I do”.

So I took a year leave without pay and sailed more than 9,000 nautical miles to Canada from New Zealand via Tahiti and Hawaii. The yacht was a new 37-foot, full keel, cutter rigged, Lidgard design called “Katie II”. I’ll share some stories about that in future posts.

Sailing non-stop for around 26 days, doing four hours on watch and four hours off, for three ocean passages, took a bit of grit.

I spoke to a lot of people during our month-long stopovers. One I remember in particular during our Tahiti stop was Nigel Blackburn. We talked about the realities of the superyacht industry. This started to form a clear picture in my mind of life on superyachts. I started to doubt my belief that this was the right mission for me.

Having sailed to Canada, it was time for a new mission: drive across America to look for work on a yacht and enjoy being a tourist in another country along the way. I loved that 1972 Chev Impala Station wagon. But that is another story that includes 14,000 miles of driving.

To cut a long story short, I went back to my Navy career in 1989.

Many of the lessons I learnt because of the missions I undertook became invaluable for understanding various situations later in life.

What happened to the RNZN over the next couple of decades was truly remarkable and a huge shift in the way we went about business. World leading experts were contracted to train everyone from the bottom up.

Task-specific situational leadership was introduced paving the way for Navy Excellence (NX).

NX revolved around three sets of tools, put together with the Baldrige Criteria, which empowered all staff to make change for the good of the RNZN organization. These tools were:

  • Standard improvement tools
  • Standard scorekeeping tools
  • Organizational Alignment tools

All of a sudden the majority of those in the RNZN were on the same page and developed a clear mission statement. We all knew what we did, why we did it and who we did it for. For this reason, together with the other changes implemented, moral in the RNZN improved in great leaps and bounds. It wasn’t all sweet-smelling roses but we now had the tools to continually improve.

So that’s how I know about missions and mission statements.

If you want to read more about “The best small nation navy in the world” just Google that phrase.

Are you on a mission? Is it clearly defined in a mission statement?

Ask yourself those three key questions.

Feel free to share your mission in the comments below.