In my last installment, I introduced the idea that successful organizations are led by someone with a compelling vision. A compelling vision comprises knowing who you are (your significant purpose), where you’re going (your picture of the future), and what will guide your journey (your values). Let’s take this concept, one segment at a time, and apply it to Washington.
A significant purpose (who we are). In helping people develop a significant purpose, one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t want it to be complicated. A purpose statement simply needs to tell everyone involved what business you are in.
When I coauthored Lead with LUV with Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines (whose stock symbol is LUV), I was eager to find out why they were the only airline that was able to make money year after year in an industry that historically has lost money. One thing that became very clear was that Southwest has a compelling vision every one of their employees understands.
When I asked Colleen what business Southwest Airlines was in, she smiled and said, “Southwest Airlines is in the customer service business—we happen to fly airplanes.” That’s certainly simple and straightforward. From the president to the frontline employees, everybody knows that is their purpose. That’s why, year in and year out, they are voted one of the top customer service providers in any industry.
Walt Disney started his theme parks with a clear purpose. He said, “We’re in the happiness business.” That is very different from being in the theme park business. Being in the happiness business helps cast members (employees) understand their primary role in the company.
A clear purpose tells you the reason for your existence. In other words, it answers the question “Why?” rather than just explaining what you intend to do.
So, what’s the purpose of the United States? Are we in the business of being a role model for democracy? What about the quality of life of our own people—where does that fit in our purpose statement? Right now, I don’t think we have a clear sense of what business we are in as a country. What business do you think we are in?
Next time: What is the picture of the future for America—where is our country going?