Know Your Mission. Nine Questions to Ask.

Know Your Mission. Nine Questions to Ask.

This post is the first in Kennedy Spencer’s 10-part-series: “How to Become a Great Speaker.” 

The most prolific leaders and speakers of our time – from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill to Steve Jobs — had several things in common. One shared characteristic that stands out above the rest: an absolute sense of mission.

In speaking, as in life, I believe your mission matters most. A mission drives passion. It provides purpose. It guides you to change, and better, the world.

“A man with money is no match for a man on a mission.” –Doyle Brunson

A clear mission guides genuine leadership. It is also the key behind every truly great public speaker.

Great leaders and speakers are not born; they are made. As the world evolved around them, and they grew into it, they saw a need and identified where their strengths met those needs. That, in effect, became their mission. Which is not to say their missions were always clear, and certainly, they weren’t always easily obtainable. But the fact is, the “best of the best” refused to be defined or knocked down by society – they refused to give up on themselves, and their missions.

A few examples (which you may have seen before, but worth a reminder):

  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team
  • Albert Einstein’s teachers said he would “never amount to much”
  • Oprah Winfrey was told she “wasn’t fit for television”
  • Abraham Lincoln failed in business; lost 8 elections
  • Walt Disney was told he “lacked imagination & creativity”

Whether a stay-at-home parent, elected official or corporate CEO, we all have a mission. For most of us, our mission is likely more than what it appears to be and perhaps even more than what we’ve told, or come to understand, ourselves. It is the knowing of that mission, sharing of that mission, acting on that mission – often through speaking – that gives us purpose. And that purpose allows us — in our own way — to improve the world. This is true in politics, business, sports, parenthood, art, writing, science and life.

When someone’s personal mission doesn’t “square” with his everyday doing is when he becomes disenchanted, disengaged. He becomes less than the being of which he is capable. When people talk about inspiring leaders, inspiring speakers, there are no two ways about it: You cannot be inspiring, unless you first, are inspired – inspired by something greater than yourself.

When your mission is clear, however, and aligned with what you are doing or speaking about, one’s power is beyond compare. And it’s a power, a passion, a genuine call to and toward excellence, to and toward a better world, a better business and a better self. Speaking to and working on behalf of that mission is not a futile exercise. It becomes a necessity.

Now, I know some of you reading this may be thinking that you don’t have a mission or wondering what it is. But, you do. Trust me on this. Better yet, trust yourself. You have a mission and purpose – and it is in addition to serving yourself and your immediate family. While that purpose may and will continue to change and evolve, you have a place and a strength that the world needs. Let me say that again because it’s worth repeating: You have a strength that the world needs. But before you do anything else – certainly before you begin to even think about preparing for a speech – you need to be clear on those strengths – that mission.

Because the best speakers of our time – arguably the best leaders – were the same people who knew their missions, what they stood for, as well as what they stood against. And they fought for that purpose. Their missions were reflected not only through their speeches, but through their everyday lives. Missions that could be seen, heard, understood and embraced, before they even uttered a single word.

One day we’ll all leave this planet. Before that happens, the best speakers, leaders (and arguably the happiest people) first ask themselves, “How am I going to leave it?” In the meantime, “How am I going to live it?” “What is my mission?” and “What am I meant to do?”

So before we even think about giving a speech, we too must look to define our mission. With that, ask yourself:

  1. Where are my strengths?
  2. Where do they meet the needs of the world?
  3. What is my personal mission?
  4. What would I want my legacy to be?
  5. What do I want to be remembered for?
  6. What is the mission of my organization?
  7. Does my personal mission match that of my organization?
  8. Does what I’m doing right now match what I want to be doing?
  9. Do they meet somewhere, some how?

Even if the answers and the full picture do not seem quite clear to you right now, have faith. It’s there.

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King Jr.


So with that, I challenge you this week to try and define your mission. Take a few minutes every day to consider the questions above, and think about it. Write it down. Change it. Re-write it. Note what feels right. Note what feels wrong. Don’t over think it.

This week, just take the first step.

Patty McDonough Kennedy is CEO of Kennedy Spencer( a marketing communication agency, with offices in NY and Vienna, Austria. Patty and her team of international media, marketing and communication experts work with companies and individuals across the world to develop strategies that significantly improve communication, raise brand awareness and increase sales. Follow her blog at