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Like Parsley on Fish

Irving Olds, who was chair of U.S. Steel's board in the mid-1900s, recognized half a century ago that which recent corporate scandals have taught us all: that the boards of most companies, presumably assembled to guide the actions of the organization, are often just window dressing. "Directors are like parsley on fish," Olds said back then. "Decorative but useless."

Unfortunately, many companies today can say the same about their mission statements. While corporations form boards because the law requires them to, most create mission statements because modern-day leadership theory says they must. We intend for mission statements to identify the organization's purpose, describe its philosophy, and establish a distinctive marketing position. Walk into any company and you'll likely see its mission statement, handsomely framed and hanging in the lobby. But when its only use is to garnish an empty wall, even the most beautifully crafted mission statement is decorative but useless.

Most companies fail to utilize their mission statements effectively. Mission statements help inspire a culture and drive the employee behavior necessary to achieve the organization's goals. They help workers identify a connection between their personal and those of the company. But what truly inspires is not reading about those values on a plaque. It's seeing them in action through their leaders' behavior. Today's leaders must demonstrate their organization's values--not simply print them on a poster--in order to secure their employees' trust.

If you want your employees, those who enlist with your organization because they connect with its values, to stay aligned with your mission, then show them through your behavior that those values are for real. Demonstrate those values proactively, every day, and you'll transform your mission statement from an ornamental wall hanging to a source of constant inspiration.
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Terrific post. A mission has the potential for tremendous power and impact in the organization. But as this post so eloquently points out, it must be effectively utilized and modeled by the leader.

I have some thoughts on how to create a mission statement that works, you can read it here.

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