We businesspeople love our strategies. We conduct strategy meetings and summits, develop strategic plans, and more. And yet on a recent mission trip to El Salvador I was reminded, perhaps more vividly than ever, that vision trumps strategy. If you don’t know your destination, a map for getting there is pretty useless.
Kurt Ackermann is a missionary and founder of Sus Hijos (Spanish for “His Children”), a non-profit organization in El Salvador dedicated to serving orphaned and abandoned children, under-resourced families, and the homeless in this impoverished, crime-laden Central American country. This year was the second time I had served on a team hosted by Kurt and Sus Hijos.
To summarize Kurt’s passion for El Salvador, I would say he wants to help kids and families from “hard places” find their way socially, economically, and spiritually. It should be no surprise, then, that a Sus Hijos mission team agenda typically includes serving and doing projects in orphanages, prisons, and transition homes for older youth. Would it surprise you, though, if Sus Hijos opened a United States-themed diner in an upscale business and retail district in the capital city of San Salvador?
On a trip with Kurt four years ago, I heard him share his dream of opening the “States Diner” as it is now called, a place where young adults who “age out” of orphanages can find employment, job skills training, and income when they would otherwise have nowhere to go but the streets. Kurt didn’t come to El Salvador to start a diner. He was drawn there by a vision to help lift up struggling kids and families in a country where there are very limited government support services.
While enjoying a couple of meals at the diner on my recent trip, I had the benefit of seeing its impact firsthand. I saw hard-working, hope-filled smiling faces who are learning how to work, improving their English, learning new skills, and planning for their next step up after the Diner. It was and is a highly-effective strategy for helping kids from “hard places,” and the strategy was born out of a compelling vision, not the other way around.
As business leaders, we can learn from Sus Hijos. “Start with Why” (as eloquently suggested by Simon Sinek in his book and his popular video at TED.com), building a clear vision of why your organization or team exists. Then “begin with the end in mind” (per Stephen Covey in his classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”). The strategy for getting there is important and a worthy investment of time and energy, but only after your organization is healthy enough to know why and where you are going.
Planning and strategy have always been in my comfort zone as a businessman, yet the longer I work the less stoked I get about planning and strategy, and the more I find myself asking about the purpose and the destination of those plans and strategies. The more I focus on the destination, the more I find my colleagues joining me with inspiration and aspiration for excellence. As Kurt is so effectively demonstrating in El Salvador, a leader with a purpose can make a deep and lasting impact.
Larry May – [President]