By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute

A professor leading an orientation program for new doctoral students was trying to explain the concept of “systems.” She started with a question: “Is an airplane full of passengers a system?”

From the back of the room came the response: “When it’s hijacked, it is.”

Most of the students chuckled nervously, thinking someone had the audacity to be flippant.

“That’s exactly right!” the teacher proclaimed. “Who said that?”

When the student raised his hand, she asked him why he thought a group of passengers in a hijacked plane were a system when an ordinary group of passengers would not be.

“Because until the plane is hijacked, the passengers don’t have a common purpose. But once the hijacking starts, their fates are tied together and they’re all focused on one thing — survival.”

The professor smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s a great place to start defining a system.”

It’s also a great way to point to the importance of vision.

Unless an individual has a sense of where he or she is going, it’s virtually impossible to decide how to align and direct individual resources. The same is true for organizations. Large or small, they are all open systems, but it’s virtually impossible for a group of people to align and direct the group’s resources in one direction unless they have a common sense of what they are trying to achieve.

That can be expressed in a mission — what we are trying to do. Or it can be expressed in a vision — what things will look like when we achieve our mission. Ideally, individuals and organizations have both — and make them both frequently explicit as they adopt and pursue goals and objectives.

As Casey Stengel once warned, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else.”

Copyright © 2010 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site:

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