What do you stand for?

Here’s our latest thought piece, written by Keith. If you’d like it in a pretty PDF form, then let us know and we’ll send you it. Enjoy.

I’ve got a Superman tattoo and I sometimes get asked why – mainly by my exasperated and disappointed mother but not exclusively. Perhaps I believe I share some of his abilities or maybe I’m just a fan of men with underpants on the outside.

Actually, it’s simply a reminder. Some people have Post-It notes on their computer screen, I have a tattoo – to remind me to always remember the importance of what you stand for. Lois Lane, in one of her first interviews with Superman asked him just that – “Superman, what do you stand for?”

Too many leaders and businesses still don’t know what they stand for – or at least aren’t able or prepared to articulate – and I wonder if it’s because they just don’t think it matters. After all, they are typically bright, driven, goal oriented individuals, determined to do what’s required in order to win. If they thought that knowing what they and their businesses stood for would make a difference to winning, then they’d obsess over it, but most don’t. Instead they choose to obsess over sales, revenue and profit targets; over cost control and reduction programmes; over processes and efficiency; over tools and measures.

All of these things matter – they’re all important ingredients in winning – but leaders (and their businesses) don’t just win on what they know or through their continual ability to hit a target like some well trained circus monkey. There’s little competitive advantage here – everyone can have great tools and processes and with enough determination and skillful goal setting, most people and businesses can hit a target. But none of this answers the question – “Who are you and what do you stand for?”

Does it matter? We think so.

Great teams we’ve worked with in the world of elite sport know who they are, what they stand for and what values and behaviours that will help them win– and some of the best teams we’ve worked with in the corporate arena do too.

Without it, they’re just doing stuff – with it, they’re doing stuff, their particular way, amplifying the great things that unite them, guiding their choices, demonstrating what makes them different and ultimately, being human and being connected to something greater than the ability to hit a number.

Knowing who you are, what you stand for and what you and your team are connected to speaks to one of the strongest drivers of human motivation – the desire to connect to something greater than an outcome. Without it, you have no soul and increasingly, customers and people who work in your business want to know and be proud of working with and for organisations with a soul.

If you don’t know what you stand for or if you once did some work on it but it was just a tick box exercise now gathering dust somewhere, then you’re definitely not Superman – and you may be a Target Monkey. With the sort of pressure so many leaders are under and with a corporate culture obsessed with hitting numbers, perhaps that’s not surprising. And since, as a leader, your attitude is disproportionately infectious, it’s pretty likely you’re breeding lots of other soulless target monkeys too. Even worse, your talent you’ve worked so hard to recruit and retain will leave and you’ll end up with an organisation that is efficient, clinical, driven and ultimately indistinguishable and anodyne.

Superman’s answer was “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. What’s yours?