[Quote] I have tried to manifest that magical environment

Leaders can't force alignment. Just as "management" isn't "leadership," so "governance" is not "shared mission."

[Quote] I have tried to manifest that magical environment

"I have tried to manifest
that magical environment
of shared mission.

It can be done, but only
if all the participants
want it to happen."

– Sir Patrick Stewart in "Making It So"

Patrick Stewart is worth listening to

Sir Patrick Stewart

Patrick Stewart may most famous for playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek – The Next Generation (TNG).

But his work is much, much broader than that. For much of his life, he has been a distinguished stage actor, including with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

So his biography, Making It So, is also much broader and interesting to more readers than just Star Trek. In fact, the journey he took from poverty in Northern England to where he is now is pretty spectacular. It's good reading!

The quote

I haven't been able to get this quote out of my head since reading it.

In the way Stewart describes himself, he may not always have been the easiest or most fun to work with. In particular, he describes how he brought way too much rigidity and dour seriousness to his early days of recording TNG, driven by a feeling of not being good enough, plus some cultural differences between British Shakespeare stage acting and American sci fi serial TV.

Luckily, his fellow cast members help him to lighten up and become more fun to work with.

Over time, they build strong camaraderie, something that he had achieved and loved in other settings before.

And so, by the end of the biography, he reflects on this sense of "shared mission"--both on its importance and on the difficulty of making it happen.

The point for innovation

We in innovation of course also set meaningful purposes for our organizations and their transformation and rally people to breathe life into those purposes.

Yes, this is a part of all leadership. In innovation, it particularly matters though, because we have agency to treat purpose as something craft-able; malleable, more so than many other leaders, who often have to focus on identifying and giving voice and meaning to the purpose that is already there. This is just as hard, too. It's just a slightly different flavor of the same priority.

Anyway, thought leaders talk about all kinds of tools we can bring to bear to achieve shared vision:

  • Incentives
  • Empowerment
  • Psychological safety
  • And many more

But what's interesting is that most of those levers take the perspective of the leader or change agent.

Stewart's quote, by contrast, puts the focus on everyone else, on the people affected by the change we hope to make happen. He asks a question that is "more common sense than common action:"

What do your people themselves actually, already want?

To me, this question holds at least three profound parts:

- BELIEF: Do your people want the mission that you evangelize?
- COMMUNITY: Do they even have any shared mission with the others involved?
- SERVICE TO A CAUSE: Are they willing (at least to a degree) to put their own interests second to a mission greater than them?

Said another way, Stewart's words encourage leaders to bring the same empathy to our team that we demand them to have toward users.

Your turn

Do you know your people–your team, partners, and stakeholders–well enough to have clarity about what they actually want?

If not, that's not the end of the world. You can start figuring it out today.

But figure it out, you must.

And once you do, it's likely that there isn't a total sense of share mission yet.

But even that's not so bad. Remember the exact way that Patrick Stewart put it:

It's not about having a sense of shared mission already. Stewart appears to consider that an outcome, not an input.

What actually matters is getting people who "want it to happen," who want to reach that sense of shared mission. What matters is having people who want to put in the hard work to get there.

So what you're really listening for is a different question, namely:

Do your people want to put in the hard work to reach a sense of shared mission eventually?

And if not, can you get them to put in the work, for this or another mission?

I wish you a receptive, hard-working crew of people around you!


Making It So

by Sir Patrick Stewart

Gallery Books (2023)

Find on publisher's site

Further reading

Stewart, P. (2023). Making It So: A Memoir. Simon and Schuster. https://simonandschusterpublishing.com/making-it-so/

The idea of wanting to reach a sense of shared mission also appears here, in different but equally exciting form: Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Bantam. http://books.google.com/books?id=SwtFDwAAQBAJ&hl=&source=gbs_api