If You Don’t Understand the Mission, You Can’t Accomplish It


In their book “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win,” Navy Seals Leif Babin and Jocko Willink state that only after a leader truly understands the mission and what is needed to complete the mission, can he/she pass it forward to their team.

I was born a communicator, I was expelled from third grade, yes third grade, for talking too much in class.  My mother couldn’t shut me up; no one has been successful since.

I believe in mission meetings, I always have. In my fixed ops management days I have been known to hold mandatory meetings for the entire staff that lasted sometimes two to three hours after closing time. In one such meeting, as I lost track of time, a warranty administrator’s husband came to the dealership and threw his shoes at the second floor window to get our attention. Great times. We all had a good laugh.  But the mission was fully communicated.

First, managers must know the mission: your department’s goal.   To know means to understand, and you must understand the mission or goal so well that you can easily explain it and your staff can easily understand it.  In service one such goal might be CSI, gross margin percentage or dollars per repair order. Now, after setting the mission or goal, managers need to develop a plan, a process or a roadmap to achieve the desired result. You, the Leader, must not only live this plan, but lead it from the front.

Refrain from being a manager that launches a new process every month, sends it out in an email blast, and then complains during the month end forecast meeting that your staff is incompetent.

If you are looking at gross margin percentages, managers need to look at current technician pay plan structures, unapplied labor costs, pricing of operational labor codes, discounting of all types and the variance between maintenance and mechanical labor sales in their department. Once a clear understanding of the fundamentals contributing to the low margin have been realized, then the manager can explain to the staff the new steps that must be put in place to raise this to the desired goal.

In their book, these two Navy Seals also state: “Broad and ambiguous missions bring about a lack of focus, ineffective execution and mission creep.”

A well-designed mission that is fully understood by the departmental manager and then launched, with clear instructions to each and every employee, is crucial to the execution of the new goal or process. Managers, keep in mind that time for Q & A needs to be part of the execution design. Understand that no one individual grasps, learns and dissects information the same as the next.

When I hear Managers speak of trying for a full year to get their CSI score moving in the right direction, my first question is always: “Does your staff understand exactly what you are expecting of them and how to achieve success in this matter?”

The common response I hear so often is:  “Of course. We discuss the surveys every time a bad one arrives.”

It doesn’t require Rembrandt here for you to get the picture.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” ‒ General Colin Powell

Although time consuming, you must make sure that the mission is understood by all who must go to battle every day. Focus on one mission at a time, communicate often and reward the wins daily as well as deciphering the losses.

Gunnery Sargent William Nixon U.S. Marine Corp (Ret) states, “The Leader must be technically and tactically proficient:  Know your job and know your subordinates job. Demand the same of subordinates. This is best achieved through training in real world scenarios.  Set deadlines, bench marks, and follow up”.

Managers, your employees need clear instruction, specific tasks that must be done and simply explained in a manner that they will understand. Then the roadmap must be laid out with specific guidelines to follow.  Train on the processes, the word tracks, and all aspects of the plan or roadmap you have designed. Only then are they to be held accountable for the results.

To close on a military note and two of my favorite quotes:

“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

– General Norman Schwarzkopf

“No guts, no glory.”

– Major Gen. Frederick C. Blesse