Each new year it has been easy for me to intuit where the world is headed. I have not always been right of course, but at least with a sense of heading, I can help my clients set a course of action and give my team direction knowing that we will recalibrate as the year unfolds. Not so in 2024. I have no sense at all where the world is headed, and no one I have spoken to has any more clarity than I have.
I’ve tried incessantly over the past weeks to access this intuition, to find a North Star, to gain some sense of where we’re headed. But what I was searching for eluded me time and time again. Why is it so hard this year to figure out where we’re headed? Could it be that the world is in a wobble? When something is wobbling, it is impossible to predict where it will land or where it is headed. The possibilities are infinite. This is how I am feeling about the world at the start of 2024, we are in a wobble. The possibilities of where we are headed are too unknowable to even sense, never mind to predict.
We have lost a sense of certainty about everything: what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, what is moral and what is immoral, we are not even certain of our own genders anymore. When leaders of America’s greatest schools of learning are unable to answer simple moral questions other than by saying that everything depends on circumstance, we are in a serious wobble. We seem to be in not only a philosophic and social wobble, but also in an economic, political, and military wobble. In each of these arenas, we lack clear frameworks by which to resolve difficult dilemmas and make hard choices.
If we are not sure of who we are then it is very difficult to decide what we should be doing and where we should be going.
What causes us to wobble? We get into a wobble when our identities become obscure. If we are not sure of who we are then it is very difficult to decide what we should be doing and where we should be going. This applies to individuals and also to organizations and nations. There was a time when individuals and nations had very clear identities. Their identities were well known to them, and apparent to others. This is no longer the case. Individuals are questioning their identity, as are nations. Organizations also needs to have an identity, but mostly do not. The absence of organizational identity creates a strategic wobble that generates confusion. The absence of clear identity also causes a cultural wobble that generates corporate toxicity. Stakeholders become uncertain where the organization is headed, what its values are, and what distinguishes its culture.
A mission is to be the bestin the world at what we do. A purpose is to do the best for the world by what we do.
Identity is different from mission and purpose. The ideas of mission and purpose have been popular in business since the 1980s. Mission defines what a company is setting out to do. Purpose is different. Purpose articulates the reason for a company’s existence. A mission and could typically be something like: “We will be the best in the world at what we do.” Purpose is more like, “We will do the best for the world by what we do.” Mission is focused on a company’s market. Purpose is focused on the world. In 2009 Simon Sinek popularized the idea of purpose with his book, Start with Why. At that time people were relatively sure of their identities, they knew who they were and what they did, so it made sense to start with why. But this is no longer valid. Now people are uncertain of who they are and so businesses and individuals can no longer start with why. Now each of us, as individuals and as organizations, needs to start with who?
Who am I?
Who am I? or, Who are we? is a question both broad and deep in its reach. The question touches on my history and background, it starts long before I was born. Each of us is descended from over 4000 ancestors over the last 400 years, and each of those ancestors add a grain of meaning into the composition of the person I am today. An organization is also made-up of people with different backgrounds who have come together to collaborate on an idea, create products, serve customers, and grow value. The question who am I? deals with the assumptions by which I approach my life and the world around me. The question deals with my core beliefs and my non-negotiable values. It deals with my aspirations and my fears and how determined I am to actualize my aspirations and how resilient I am to manage my fears.
Most of the work I now do in my coaching practice, and my firm, Lapin International does in its leadership development and strategy work, revolves around clarifying identity. This is because it all starts withwho? We explore ways to project our identities into the work we do, the service we provide the cultures we architect, and the way we set about making a difference to the lives of others. Our identities as individuals and as corporations build our distinction, that which makes what we do and how we do it, unique.
The question “who am I?” strips your view of yourself down to its essence.
I invite you to give some thought to this simple question with no simple answer: “Who am I?” Consider your life story starting from two or three generations ago, and all the sacrifices, opportunities, decision points, and choices that went into creating the individual that you are today. Consider your values and your beliefs, the axioms by which you live and the assumptions you use to understand the world around you. Think about your culture, ethnicity, and religion (if you are a person of faith). Expand the description of your identity to include the members of your family, your close friends, and your community. Notice how answering this question does not include how much you have or what you do. The question “who am I?” strips your view of yourself down to its essence. This is the meaning of identity.
With greater clarity about your identity, you will have greater certainty about where you are headed even as the world continues to wobble. I hope you’ll find it easier to achieve certainty where others are confused, clarity where others are unsure and a new ease in resolving dilemmas and making decisions.