Mission Statements and Me: A Battle I’ve Finally Won

Management theory is bunk, as is most management practice, really. Oh, I’ve managed organizations large and small, and done a good job, as measured by improved outcomes and increased incomes.  Because of this success, various traditional organizations have found me useful. Until they decide they want a mission statement, at which point I become an impediment to progress.

For those of you lucky enough to have dodged this practice, a mission statement purports to set out an organization’s purpose, its products, its target market and its selling points. For readers not familiar with the word, “purport” means “to claim falsely,” which can be reduced to “to lie.” Hence a mission statement is a series of agreed-upon lies regarding an organization. What separates a mission statement from a public relations lie is the former uses much more business jargon and many more buzzwords.

For example:

“Our mission is to provide just-in-time service

in a gender-neutral and environmentally stable manner.”


“We exist to maximize client-centered outcomes

without sacrificing holistic social networks.”


“We interactively develop disseminatable strategies

with a focus on deliverables.”


“Our mission is to facilitate cross-cultural communication

utilizing state-of-the-art organically-sourced

primary, secondary and tertiary electronic channels.”

Perhaps I was a bit harsh in using the word “lies” above. After all, for a statement to be labelled a lie, we need to demonstrate its divergence from the truth. Since mission statements typically say nothing at all, they are octopus ink—they exist to obscure any truth rather than present an alternative.

I’ve spent my life injecting absurdity into formal situations while bringing order to chaos, so you’d think mission statements would be right up my alley. Here, you’d be wrong, because I’ve also spent my life refusing to take oaths that contain even a phrase I don’t agree with. A mission statement, as typically written, can’t be agreed with or disagreed with—it has no substance.

Still, I’ve had to sit through more than my share of mission-statement-generation retreats/meetings/seminars, driving other participants crazy with my damnable desire to actually say something. The one time I wrote a mission statement it ended up a 20-stanza prose-poem. Needless to say, it was not adopted. Until the Tiny White Box came into existence out of nothing.My mission statement may not have the necessary buzz-per-syllable ratio typical of the genre, but it is an oath I can take, as long as I can have a drink of water halfway through.

What It Is

A mission statement in a Keatsian voice

It is not about liability.
It is about reliability

It is not about what a judge would say.
It is about judgement.

It is not about hiding.  It is not about shame.
It is about following that still, small voice within.

It is not about the passive voice.
It is about the active voice.

It is not about being acted upon.
It is about acting.

It is not about being an object.
It is the subject.

It is not about you.
It is about I.

It is not about me.
It is about us.

It is not about rights.
It is about responsibility.

It is not about money.  It is never about money.

It is not about the law.
It is about being honest, true and reasonable, regardless of the law.

It is not about breaking the rules.  It is not about following the rules.
It is above, beyond and behind the rules.

It is about a code engraved in the mind, written on the heart, tattooed on the soul.

It is about doing instant moral calculus in your head.  It is about taking time to check your work.

It is not about the times table.

It is not about time.  It is not about beginning and ending.  It is not about precedent.
It is about now.

It is not about covering your butt.
It is about covering the bases.

It is not about not doing the wrong thing.
It is about doing the right thing.

It is not about agenda items, setting priorities or action plans.
It is the right action at the right time.

We are the right people.

It is about taking responsibility.  It is about being responsible.  It is about making choices.  It is about seeing that there are always choices.

It is not about blame, excuses or retribution.

It is about being rational.
It is not about rationalizing.

It is about appealing to that which is best within us.
It is not about comparing ourselves to the worst of those about us.

It is about continually and constantly questioning the worthiness and wisdom of our own actions.

It is about assuming the best in others.

It is about acting as if this were a perfect world, and making choices that will help to make it so.




5 responses to “Mission Statements and Me: A Battle I’ve Finally Won”

  1. It is about seeing everything through the looking glass of the Golden Rule…..which has been the successful “mission(ary) statement of at least one historically influential movement.


  2. “In the Beginning [of what?] was the word and the word was with God and the WORD is God”……”word are here, words are there, in the air and everywhere, eat your words but don’t go crazy!”
    And now, Gentle Reader, please examine America’s mission statements through these same lenses….😳😱🤐😉😇😎


  3. I watched your segment with interest. You inspired me to go up to our tiny cabin which I almost never visit these days and spend some time alone. I was wondering what your source of power is. You appear to be brewing coffee. Do you have electricity? My cabin is on a ridge overlooking Mt Chocorua It’s actually a garden shed I bought at the Boston Flower Show. I’ll probably wait for warmer weather By the way I entered my email so that I could be included on your list, and it said “user does not exist”


  4. Just saw you on Chronicle. I loved your story and I will be reading you blog. Best wishes on your latest chapter of your life up north ! One day I hope to do the same thing.


  5. mr. howard, U write a lot better than i do; i’m a voracious reader, but if the writing is poor, i eventually get bored and move on, never to return. i’m moving on, but only to do some of my own writing; i’ll most certainly be back! i, too, am a drunk who is dry today, but i lost my battles with mission statements. i was never able to manage anything, including myself, although i learned in school to love reading (i’ll read an aspirin bottle if nothing else is available, although the internet has pretty much precluded that desperate measure these days) and to write code (as in programming). i have only rarely been able to focus on what the boss wanted, because whenever i made suggestions, they didn’t fit the political requirements, mission statement or otherwise. i make it a point to thank the Lord for every drunk and drug addict who makes it, because far too many don’t; anybody who does what U have been able to do with addicts deserves all the support from his neighbors (*not* the government) that he can handle. should U ever decide to return to southern NH, be sure to drop me a line.


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