Align on Mission

Stephen Tang

In his 2022 update to his seminal book on leadership, In Discover Your True North, Bill George, acclaimed former Medtronic Chairman & CEO, profiled behaviors for leaders to enable compassion, empowerment, accountability, and engagement. Here’s a bonus excerpt from my new book (working title), “A Test for Our Time: Crisis Leadership in the Next Normal.” It echoes this week’s theme about True North Leadership:

The most empowering condition of all is when the entire organization aligns with its mission, and people’s passions and purposes synchronize with each other. It is not easy to get to this position, especially if the work environment and the skills and experiences needed are rapidly changing. Nonetheless, it is worth whatever effort it takes to create an aligned environment. This includes hiring new people into key positions who have traveled further down the road than we have on a common journey, respect for those that established our current ways of doing things while knowing we need to change our ways for the future, and removal of those who don’t support the mission. By taking these steps, we can create an organization that is truly empowering for everyone involved.

When OraSure set out to define its pandemic mission, all of us knew that the company’s product would play a crucial role in getting the world “back to the future.” But beyond that, OraSure faced the challenge of seeing itself and its emerging needs for talent and experience in objective, yet human terms. New and necessary ways of doing things had to be accepted and assimilated by large numbers of people who were used to doing things the old way. This was true for the research and development team, the business unit teams, the human resources team, as well as the clinical trials, regulatory affairs, quality assurance, manufacturing, and information technology teams. Very few people were exempt from sudden and lasting change. The company needed to help those who were used to a slower and less complex pace of work change their mindset, outlook, and way of doing their jobs. Only then could OraSure hope to achieve its mission.

In a world that is constantly changing, leaders need to embrace and cultivate the tension that comes with it. As Danish philosopher Soeren Kierkegaard said, “Everyone wants progress, but nobody wants change.” By having difficult conversations and calling out barriers to change, we can create progress. These conversations could often be deeply emotional experiences, with clashes of personalities and communication styles on full display. However, they were necessary to move us forward. As a leader, I found it helpful to rise above our dilemma by observing that the whole world was facing similar challenges. We were simply leaning into them with much more gusto. By doing this, I was able to help my team lurch forward, even with some significant setbacks.

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