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A Still, Small Voice

The comedienne, Paula Poundstone once said that adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up, not because they’re interested, but rather because they’re looking for ideas. The same can be true of companies, where “what do you want to be when you grow up” can be the toughest question of all.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the client and project selection that comes with maturity. I wrote far-sighted managers eventually come to the realization that just because the company can do something, doesn’t mean they should do it. In other words, companies will always find opportunities. If the prevailing motivation is the payday, the company will eventually take on projects that neither appeal to its people nor fulfill its highest and best use.

The old computer programming adage, GIGO (garbage in; garbage out), applies here. Once a company begins accepting projects or customers for which it has no enthusiasm, the company’s reputation and prospects inevitably suffer.

The problem, however, is that an owner can’t weed out the bad projects unless she knows what the good projects are. Distilled to its very essence, this is the core of a leader’s job. It is a leader’s job to plant a stake in the ground and make the pronouncement – loudly, clearly, and repeatedly: “we are going here.” “This is our reason for being here.” “This is our passion.” “This is why we get out of bed in the morning.” “This is who we are.”

If the leader fails in that; if everyone from the receptionist back, the corner office out, and the warehouse up do not understand or cannot repeat both the mission and the destination, the leader still has critical work to do.

Make no mistake about it: the job of deciding where to plant that stake is hard work. It takes discipline to separate oneself from the chaos of immediate priorities. It takes insight to call in the necessary help. And it takes ego strength to accept and consider voices beyond one’s own.

And then it takes quiet. It takes quiet to listen, finally, to that still small voice that whispers the answer that works personally and professionally: “This is where we’re going.