Nov 16 2021| Leadership | leaders

Mission or Distraction?

November Business Brief

by Phil Eyre Leaders' Founder

In Phil Eyre’s recent Business Brief article, he encourages us to stop and question whether certain opportunities are a distraction and wasting our time and/or money. Or are they a mission, an opportunity that would help the company thrive? 

These are the questions that every effective leader grapples with consciously throughout their leadership career. We encounter multiple opportunities to apply our precious resources of time, money and energy. Choosing the right ones, those that serve our organisation’s mission, is essential to ensure sustained brilliance - and enjoyment - in our work. 

Leaders who fail to encompass this idea often dilute the success of their company, spread resources too thinly, engage in value-destroying transactions and take on customers, and colleagues, who eventually depart unhappy. 

‘Mission creep’ has its roots in military language, describing a gradual shift in the course of a military campaign, resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment. It’s become common parlance for any organisation that engages in activity that doesn’t serve the purpose of the company; a distraction. Distractions can be seductive, especially for impatient leaders, yet they are too often destructive. 

There is no organisation in the world that can excel at being all things to all people. We can be good, perhaps, but not phenomenal. To believe otherwise is nothing short of hubris. This is not to reject innovation, far from it. Innovation that serves mission is essential and extremely valuable. For example, look no further than John Lewis & Partners, shifting into providing rental accommodation to help address a national housing crisis as part of fulfilling its ‘social purpose’. 

Here are some examples of distractions that have arisen with our clients in recent months. Do any ring true for you? 

  • An offer to buy the business from a party with no interest in the customers or purpose of the business, other than the bottom line. 
  • An invitation to join a board in a voluntary capacity in addition to other executive duties. 
  • A diary packed with meetings that serve no discernible purpose other than maintaining established habits. 
  • Attempting to contrive a new position in the business simply to accommodate someone who had become ‘available’ even though the business didn’t need that role. 

For some other people, these might have served ‘mission’; for our clients, these were each distractions. 

How can we better address the mission-or-distraction conundrum? Here follow three practical suggestions: 

  1. Regularly review activity that you should decline. If you’re honest, what should you stop chasing, or cease altogether? This could range from types of customer to entire business units. Being clear about what it is that you don’t do provides a firm basis to decline distractions dressed as opportunities. It helps to record these choices formally (board or committee minutes) to help resist future temptation. This might sound straightforward in concept; however, as any leader with experience will know, stopping an activity often takes more effort than starting something new.
  2. Survey your customers. These are the people who should be benefitting from the impact that you’re making. If you can garner feedback in person, even better. This helps to understand whether the impact you’re making is as you hope, or whether your customer experience is suffering. A sophisticated analysis will consider whether those who are less happy with you need more attention (get back on mission) or should be clients at all (distraction).
  3. Actively review your diary and accord ‘mission’ or ‘distraction’ to all items in the coming fortnight. It can be instructive to identify how much time you’re allocating to what truly matters and what you’re being pulled into. You might identify a third category - we sometimes call this ‘necessary evils’, but that’s for a follow-up article. Be intentional about your time and ruthlessly resist the distractions.

About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has significant expertise in sophisticated psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company, Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Since launching Leaders in 2017, Phil has worked with many senior executives and boards primarily in the Channel Islands and City of London. He regularly writes for a variety of business publications and is often invited to speak at events for institutions such as the IoD and the British Army. Phil works closely with clients on focussed projects and long-term retainers to raise leadership standards. He is a popular and inspiring educator and coach who, with the insights gained from psychometrics, is able to accurately detect the strengths and weaknesses in leadership teams and boards. Phil has served on the boards of various charities, ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and is accredited in various motivation and behavioural techniques.

Next Article