This month, I want to look specifically at how leadership works to build and support a mission critical organization.  Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of assisting leadership as they define, redefine, or rehabilitate their organizational culture.  And more often than not, my experience with companies in this process substantiates my longstanding belief that leadership is the single most important factor in whether a mission critical operation will be successful or not.  It’s the single most important factor because the role of leadership is to set the culture and provide the behavior model for the organization.

  But if the designated leader doesn’t grasp the importance of setting culture and leading by example, others will assume the role by default.  As my wife puts it, “If you don’t have a story, one will be made up for you!”  That’s why it’s crucial to have a leader that understands how to lead.  When led properly, the organization develops a shared set of values and behaviors that distinguish them.

Leadership is a trust role.  Leadership isn’t so much a position as it is defining and being the example of a set of behaviors.  While many people are put in positions of leadership, it is their behavior that allows them to become true leaders of the organization.  Leaders must earn the trust of their people.  How do they do that?  They tell people what they’re going to do, and then they do it.  On a practical level, that means setting the direction and goals for the group.

Setting direction for an organization is actually defining its mission.  Why do you exist?  What are you trying to accomplish?  In the hustle and bustle of the day, we can forget why we’re at work at all.  But knowing what the mission is tells the group and others what the leader is all about, what the group and leader essentially promise to deliver.  As an example, we get bogged down in how best to fix a pump.  But given that our mission is to keep the facility operational, we should actually be thinking about replacing the entire assembly.  Do you see how the mission informs the members of the organization about what is important?  Remember, as the leader, you want to gain trust, so telling people what you’re about is the first step.  Then you have to make it happen.

In my own practice, I use this mission statement:

“We provide professional, effective, and efficient facility operations, services, and improvements.”

It’s a simple statement that everyone in the organization knows and it easily clarifies what we do.  Providing a clear mission for your organization is just the first step, however.  You must also provide your organization with goals.

People need goals.  Goals are vital to establishing your organizational culture.  Goals challenge, give stability, motivate, and inform people about what is important to the organization – if they’re done properly.  As the people in the organization understand and start responding to reach the goals, a mindset or culture forms in the organization.  That’s how goals shape an organizational culture.

Organizations cannot be effective without goals, and those goals must be applicable to each and every person in the organization in order for each person to work effectively.  People like to see the road ahead; it provides a feeling of stability and gives them needed direction.  Uncertainty, on the other hand, kills organizations.  If you don’t believe that, just look at any organization where it’s just been announced that layoffs will be occurring.  Productivity drops dramatically, some people leave on their own, and morale…well, morale ceases to exist.

Goals are actually very different from actions.  Goals describe the destination – what it looks like when you arrive – not the individual steps necessary to get there.  Remember that you want the members of the organization to share a set of values and behaviors that distinguish them.  The following is an example of a goal:

“No unsafe acts or situations exist at our sites.”

This goal describes a situation or condition that we desire.  With this goal I also recommend that you describe an acceptable behavior such as:

“We all have a stop-work authority and an obligation to act in all situations where we believe there is an unsafe situation or personal behavior.”

This is the behavior that leadership needs to exhibit and support.  And when I say leadership needs to exhibit the behavior, I mean without exception.  As leader, your behavior must include the following:

·         Be the example of what you want in the organization in word and deed.

·         Never be an exception to the rules, unless you want this to be an organizational value too.

·         Realize that you live under a microscope; you never have a “day off.”

·         Hold everyone to your expectations, most importantly yourself.


This actually applies to any leader of any organization, so let us look at specific leadership behaviors for mission critical operations.  Leaders of mission critical operations must:

a.        When you make a decision, show people how you integrate the mission and goals into the decision making process.  This shows people that you use them in your everyday decisions and they should too.  It also shows people how you set the priorities and gives them guidance.

b.      Learn and know your equipment, systems, and processes.  Show that knowing the equipment, systems, and processes are important.

c.       When asked about a process or procedure, immediately refer and look up the question in the policies/procedures.  Show that you use them and expect to hold people accountable to the policies/procedures.

d.      Spend time observing maintenance or operations.  By being in the field and monitoring the process, you show that you care about not only what is being done, but how it is being performed.  Make sure that you know the procedure/process and that the people are following it.  Demand exacting compliance and consideration of actions/results.

e.       Ask questions; be inquisitive.  Show people that it’s okay to question actions, especially when it comes to safety or risk mitigation.

f.       Reward good behavior.  If you see someone maintaining risk mitigation as a top priority, thank them.  (Do so publicly when possible and appropriate.)

g.      Pick up trash.  Not that you have to become the janitor, but if you see something that needs to be put away, do it.  This act lets everyone know that no job is beneath them and that cleanliness of the facility is important.

Leadership’s role in mission critical operations is to set the expectations, to live the expectations, and to hold people accountable to those expectations.  Yes, I know that these are not specific to just mission critical operations, but they are vital to a mission critical operation’s success.  The leadership sets the culture and provides the behavior model for the group.  I can’t think of a more important function and one that has a bigger impact on the success of the group.  If you are a leader, you need to live up to an almost impossible standard, but it comes with the path that you’ve chosen to pursue.  As stated by Voltaire*, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

We’ll continue our discussion about the mission critical organization’s culture next month with an in-depth look at how to establish the organizational culture and examine its attributes and behaviors.


*Voltaire. Jean, Adrien. Beuchot, Quentin and Miger, Pierre, Auguste. "Œuvres de Voltaire, Volume 48". Lefèvre, 1832