Work-Life Balance

Why Business Leaders Must Set a Personal Mission

We're searching for top company cultures to be featured on our annual list. Think your company has what it takes? Apply Now »

Entrepreneurs are bombarded with how-to advice on crafting a great mission statement for their companies. But if I wanted to relieve the pain and suffering that so many entrepreneurs experience while building great companies, I’d make them focus on the creation of a great personal mission statement instead. 

And I don’t mean just creating a statement about personal objectives that are embodied in the business. That relates to the public side of entrepreneurship -- what’s onstage for all to see, in front of the curtain. I mean the leader should rigorously think through what he or she is working on to accomplish in life behind that curtain. Apart from the founder's or CEO's entrepreneurial role, his (or her) life as a spouse, partner, parent and community member needs just as much focus as the front side does. 

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Making Your Personal Life Awesome

Overfocusing on financial gain.

Entrepreneurial success can generate financial wealth, which in turn can result in lots of things, trouble included. But too many of my fellow entrepreneurs seem to think there’s a simple chain of events that goes like this:

Create a company success.

Enjoy a wealth-creating liquidity event.

Figure things out after that. (How hard can that be?) 

And once they’ve made a pile of money with no framework or purpose for the “back end,” the troubles begin: serious relationship issues, problems with kids, substance abuse issues, overspending, bad investments. I see it every day.  

Attaining four kinds of wealth. 

There’s a better way to think about the entrepreneur's personal mission and how to express it. Consider the following four kinds of wealth and try to maximize all of them simultaneously when setting personal priorities and values: 

1. Financial: the accumulation of monetary rewards for building a successful business 

2. Relationships: the nature and quality of relationships with family members and important friends 

3. Experiential: the memories created while doing things, whether climbing Mt. Everest, watching a sunrise on the dock at the lake house, helping a child with a developmental challenge learn a new skill or anything else that brings joy, adrenaline, aesthetic pleasure or deep satisfaction 

4. Spiritual: staying true to and furthering profoundly held beliefs and values, whether they're expressed as a traditional faith or simply resound in the way life is lived.

For far too many fellow entrepreneurs, maximization occurs on the “front side” and the financial vector only: A great company has been built and genuine wealth created but at the clear expense of the “back end.”  

Related: 5 Secrets to Achieving and Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Crafting a personal mission. 

The process of developing an intelligent and lasting personal mission isn’t that different from how it works at a company. It’s about scraping away all that is not the person's essence and not vital to what he or she wants to be. And it’s about building a gut-level knowledge that everything else is merely a building block of (or a distraction or hurdle to) achieving that mission. 

Fashion a personal mission statement that clearly acknowledges and includes desires and relative weightings of the four kinds of wealth. Don’t expect that it’s going to be as simple and elegant as company mission statements can be. Personal life is a lot more complicated than business. 

I have an entrepreneur friend who decided that his personal mission was the following: 

Relationships: spending my life working with my wife to help our kids (and eventual grandkids) build highly equipped personal-happiness tool kits, while staying available and relevant to good friends 

Experiential: with awareness and active effort, maximizing the time spent doing things I love (time with kids, traveling to fish, writing, ice hockey) by minimizing hours spent doing things of little meaning to me (television, Internet).

Spiritual: being the best example of an involved, giving, free-enterprise-loving, church-avoiding Christian that I can possibly be 

Financial: using my resources in a way that fully and durably enables the points above 

Notice how powerful a personal mission becomes when the financial piece moves from center stage to playing a supporting role to the personal mission. 

Becoming a better entrepreneur via mission clarity. 

Creating clarity about a personal mission lets a leader know what stakes he or she is playing for. That clarity in turn (just like a good mission statement for a company) allows the entrepreneur to prioritize and make decisions to afford maximum pursuit of the mission. Use it just like a company mission statement. Create an annual plan, then set some goals, milestones, timelines and arrange for accountabilty and make it happen.  

In short, it makes someone a better entrepreneur, on both the back end and the front side. 

It’s not hard to get started, as any thinking about a personal mission is better than none at all, which is what far too many entrepreneurs do. Lots of tools and frameworks exist hat can make this process as formal as desired.

My advice is to consider the personal-mission planning process in the context of a peer group.  I’ve done countless exercises with Young Presidents’ Organization members and many similar kinds of groups exist. Or do it with a thoughtful counselor or advisor, perhaps a psychologist, friends, a clergyman or a wealth manager like me. 

The most critical advice, however, is to do it. Thinking clearly and definitively about a personal mission will help the leader become better entrepreneur and a better person. 

Related: To Better Balance the Work-Life Scales, More Men Should 'Lean Out'