It is the responsibility of the leader to define reality.
— Max De Pree
When I first came across this statement in Max De Pree’s book Leadership as an Art, I thought he was speaking to the CEO and reminding him or her that to lead is think about the future of the organization. In fact, much of the literature on leadership today points to the importance of the leader, the CEO, being inspirational and rallying the troops to achieve his or her vision for the company.
Recently, however, I was reminded that it is the chief responsibility of the board of directors to define reality. The board of directors, as the trustees and stewards of the organization must be looking to the future. The Board must ensure that the organization knows the reality of its situation and that it is guided and informed by a shared sense of what is true. That shared sense of organizational truth is speaks about reality today and in the future. The board of directors expresses this organizational truth in three key statements:
- The mission statement is the board’s description of the current reality of the organization. The board has the responsibility to ensure the mission statement continues to reflect the organization’s essential purpose in the community.
- The vision statement describes the board’s view of the organization’s future reality. The vision is a shared expression of what the board believes to be true for the organization in three to five years.
- The strategic plan is a statement of organizational priorities and strategies that the board believes are necessary to make the future reality true. The strategic plan is the road map that guides the collective work of the board and the chief executive as they seek to achieve the vision and the mission.
It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors to regularly review and update these three statements of organizational truth to ensure that the organization continues to define its reality.