This is the third blog post in my three-part series on the who/why/what of branding, professional/leadership development and team/culture building. Read part one: How the Most Watched TED Talk of All Time Got it Wrong. Read part two: Why You Must Tell the World What You’re For.
I worked for a while with a client who literally brimmed over with passion, enthusiasm and excitement—for something different almost every time we met. Now don’t get me wrong, this client had a lot going for him. He had a well developed, positive sense of identity that shaped his Who. He was frequently on fire about his purpose and very eloquent about his Why. But he never seemed to translate it into action. This client was definitely What-challenged.
In my last two posts, I’ve talked about the first two components of a great story: Who and Why. There’s no story without a protagonist (who) embarked on a purposeful quest (why). There’s also no closure without a happy ending (well, maybe a cautionary tale, but no one wants to be the subject or object of that!). A happy ending is all about What—what kind of action the protagonist took to resolve the conflict, what kind of outcome ensued and maybe even a hint of what might happen next.
Knowing who you are and having a purpose is the foundation for any kind of authentic individual or group identity and meaning—and that won’t take you or your group very far if you don’t articulate what you’ll do in response to this insight. In some ways, this can be tougher than defining your Who and Why. Nailing your What requires real conviction and a commitment to staying a course (at least for a while). It also means that people with a preference for the conceptual (those of us who love the Why, like my client and also like me!) must learn how to embrace a concrete direction to activate what matters most to us.
The Three Faces of What—and How They Shape Success and Fulfillment
It turns out that most of us have a preference for either Why or What, and those are two sides of a coin that must both be managed and leveraged for meaningful individual or group development. Too much emphasis on Why can lead to inaction and endless meandering. Too much focus on What can produce ennui and burnout (an epidemic in many organizations these days). Being intentional about both sets the stage for a more cohesive kind of fulfillment and success that doesn’t drop each of them into mutually exclusive buckets.
This requires some truly thoughtful attention to the multi-faceted nature of What, though, and some exploration of how its three facets (promise, mission and vision) should be aligned if you want to define and live an authentic and meaningful story. Remember that What is not just a big promise or a laundry list of tasks, and it doesn’t play out in isolation from who you are and why you you’re motivated to promise or do anything in the first place. So consider the following:
Face #1: Promise. Your promise articulates your value and what it really means. Key question: What can you always be counted on to deliver that matters to anyone else? We all needs others to hire, partner, collaborate or engage with us in some way, so it’s critically important that we’re seen and appreciated for the actual value we can provide. That’s why the happy ending to a storyline is so important—it represents a powerful promise that you can always be counted on to keep, one that matters to you and to others as well if you’ve developed it with care. A promise statement specifically defines the impact you’ll make that can draw others to you.
Remember also that promise is a timely, situational external expression (making it possible to bring purpose to life in a way that adds value for others). It may change based on the situation and the kind of impact that’s needed in the moment—but it should always align with who you are and what you’re purpose-built to deliver.
Face #2: Mission. Your mission gives concrete shape to the inspired action you’re uniquely prepared to take. Key question: What are the specific things you should do to deliver on your promise? There are lots of different ways to define mission, but mine is based on the tasks you’ll take on to deliver your purpose and promise. Your mission should either very specifically shape the products and services that you or your organization offers—or define the inspired steps you are uniquely prepared to take in providing them. Mission propels you forward through tangible action. And, it’s also where the rubber meets the road for folks like my client in terms of implementing your dreams.
The concreteness of mission is especially important for people who love to explore, imagine, envision and ponder (again, people like my client and me!). With a fully fleshed out storyline, it becomes much easier to narrow down the range of many possibilities that look so good to us.
Face #3: Vision. Your vision describes an inspiring future that you’ll want to move toward. Key question: What could the world look like when your purpose is fulfilled and your promise is energetically activated? Some people think of purpose and vision as one and the same, but I don’t. For me, purpose exists in the here and now, guiding how you show up in the present moment and what engages you most in life. Vision exists in the future, always pulling you toward something bigger. Often, vision can feel like a cause or a movement that your purpose could fuel into realization.
The conceptual nature of vision is especially important for people who tend to be task oriented and action driven because it gives them a raison d’etre beyond simply getting the next thing done. By developing a storyline, people like this can find greater fulfillment and discover what really matters most to them in the long run.
So, what does all this look like for you? Feel free to share a promise, mission or vision statement in the comments or send me a tweet @storybrander.
Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world. She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS). Cindy helps individual and organizational clients cast themselves in a compelling, enduring story that authentically conveys their unique value. Find out more about her next career development program here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/becoming-known-well-5-weeks-to-an-authentic-personal-brand-career-path-tickets-33428813481