Passion Led Us Here
Passion Led Us Here

KOAN: Amplify Your Impact — Making the Most of Mission-Driven Leadership

Jennifer Simpson

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Building truly mission-driven organizations is a worthy, if challenging, cause. We understand the principles: define a purpose, inspire people to bring their best thinking and full extent of their talents to bear to achieve it, foster a sense of connection and community that has members receive real benefit and gratification from participating in the common cause, and raise all boats in the process.

In practice, though, things rarely bear out quite that way. Espoused purpose collides with day-to-day practice, devotion dissolves into disillusionment, and the scales tilt toward avarice over equity. All this leaves a bad taste in our mouths and leaves us wondering whether the ideal of pursuing noble cause is worth it after all. To understand why this breakdown occurs so often, it is helpful to consider how we got here.

I’ve spent the last 30 years studying organizations and their histories and working both in and alongside some of the biggest brands in the world and in some of the most underserved communities, too. It turns out that most of the challenges that organizations face don’t vary that much whether you are working with a telecom giant, a global bank, a large non-profit trying to protect the planet, or community health organizations providing safety-net care to the disenfranchised. At the end of the day, doing good work together tends to boil down to our ability to listen and act empathetically (Be Kind), trust people with information that impacts their lives and affects their work (Be Open), develop systems that are resilient and agile (Be Adaptive), and lean into the relationships and partnerships required to meet our mission rather than building walls around our organizations (Be a Network). The confluence of all four of those characteristics is still elusive, too often, though.

Most of the ways that people have found to get things done together made some measure of sense when they first emerged, but eventually the reasons faded and the results remained. Eventually “how we did things” stopped matching the needs of the moment. Here’s a very quick, and oversimplified history of this evolution of organizing:

Stage 1: Bigger is Better. In the beginning, core survival needs meant that bigger and stronger was better…

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Jennifer Simpson

An artist, poet, leader, lover, daughter, sister, and mother living in Boulder, Colorado. Owner and CEO at Integrated Work. Author of the KOAN method.