Traits of the Best CEOs: Creating and Communicating Mission, Vision, and Values

This is the second post in a short series on the traits of the best CEOs. To read the introduction to the series, click here. To read the first post, click here.

The North Star is a fascinating thing. Before Garmin stole its thunder, it was the world’s first Global Positioning System. But you’re not here for an astronomy lesson. Thankfully, the North Star is also a fantastic business metaphor.

For example, let’s say you had a big, beautiful ship. It was wonderfully designed, adorned with gorgeous canvas sails, and dressed to the nines with every possible luxury. And let’s imagine that you were a reasonably decent captain. You’d drop your sails, point the boat toward open ocean, and, if you were lucky, pick up speed with wind that sailors dream about.

But here’s the catch: Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean that you’re going anywhere.

A boat in motion is worthless unless it’s headed in the right direction. And without being able to locate the North Star, how are you ever going to reach your intended destination?

The same idea applies to early stage CEOs and their businesses.

The North Star is like a company’s mission, vision and values

Also known as its aspirations, which you can read more about here). In a nutshell, they can be defined this way:

  • Mission: What a company is striving to be in the long term.
  • Vision: How it can get there? What things need to be executed to accomplish the mission?
  • Values: What does the company want to be known for? What kind of behavior should the business exemplify both internally and externally?

And just like the captain of a ship using the North Star to navigate their journey, it’s an early stage CEO’s job to create AND communicate their North Star – the company’s mission, vision, and values – to their employees and customers. The best CEOs are able to clearly define those aspirations and ensure that everyone in their organization is working toward them. Any lack of focus or deviation from that path can welcome the temptation to pursue shorter term opportunities that only take the company off its long term course.

Tying it back to the tech world, it used to be that companies that developed really innovative technology would be successful solely because of that technology. It defined their success.

But with the introduction of SaaS and the reduced cost to get a startup going, it’s become significantly harder to make technology your sole differentiator. Instead, it’s become much more important to pick a very specific pain point that a portion of the market possesses, and focus solely on addressing it. That’s your North Star.

Case Study in Company Aspirations: ZMags

When Jens Karstoft founded Zmags in 2005, his mission was to bring a digital publishing solution to companies that were producing offline collateral like newsletters, product sheets, case studies, or white papers. His focus was on developing an enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing product that easily converted offline materials to a magazine-like online format.

And while Zmags was very successful in the beginning, it became clear as competition began entering the market that the startup mentality of simply building a ship that could sail wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Zmags needed a North Star. It needed to helm a ship that had a specific navigation point.

Fast forward to today: Zmags’ destination is to provide a solution to retail/brand marketers who want to increase their online sales. To get there, Zmags adjusted accordingly, redesigning its product so that its target customers could easily convert their offline catalogs (think Express, Kenneth Cole, Disney) into an online experience that would drive more sales.

I bring that up to illustrate this point: Karstoft and team understood the importance of picking a focal point and having every component of the organization drive toward it.

Karstoft was instrumental in designing the company’s new mission, vision, and values. He bought into the shift in focus so much that he even surrendered his post as founding CEO and recruited Michael Schreck, who has the prerequesite to execute Zmags’ new aspirations (that humility and strength of character, by the way, is exactly what I talked about in the first post in this series and in my post urging CEOs to consider passing the baton).

And that’s the sign of a great CEO. You have to be able to find your North Star and do absolutely everything to direct your organization’s focus toward it.

It might not always be visible and the occasional storm will likely knock you off its course. But, in the end, it’s that North Star that will help you refocus, correct your course, and reach your end destination.

Firas Raouf
Firas Raouf
The Chief Executive Officer

Firas was previously a venture capitalist at Openview. He has returned to his operational roots and now works as The Chief Executive Officer of Everteam and is also the Founder of nsquared advisory. Previously, he helped launch a VC fund, start and grow a successful software company and also served time as an obscenely expensive consultant, where he helped multi-billion-dollar companies get their operations back on track.
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