We have a propensity for doing whatever it takes when the chips are down.

A cause or challenge seemingly bigger than our ability to manage is often the mission to which we are drawn in droves.

This plays out in the way we respond in the face of disaster — like the loss inflicted by wildfires or floods. Or the terror of a crazed gunman. Or any one of a far-too-long-list of incidents that bring us to our feet en masse…desperate to be part of a community that provides help.

What we miss with amazing regularity is that the desire to be part of a grand pursuit is not limited to an hour of trial or tragedy. It is a characteristic of great enterprise.

In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins refers to one of the differentiators in companies that rise to greatness as the existence of big hairy audacious goals — BHAGs.

The late 1960’s version of a BHAG was President John F. Kennedy’s vision to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. What is sometimes left out of the discussion is the reason Kennedy gave for aiming at the moon. It wasn’t driven by a metric.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

We should note that 50 years later the NASA team is still at it. Today, after a 5-year 1.7 billion mile journey, Juno reached the orbit of Jupiter one second off scheduled arrival time! Amazing.

Your Best Day At Work

Teams in pursuit of audacious goals often accomplish things beyond the imagination. Yet, average companies wrestle with this. There are a number of reasons for the tension; but at least one is that too often our vision is not worthy of pursuit.

The eventual consequence of anemic organizational vision is atrophy.

In Simon Sinek’s most recent work, Leaders Eat Last, the author suggests that the desire to share a “common burden” brings us together in a way nothing else can.

Sinek makes the point by asking us to consider our best days at work. His suggestion is that few will talk much about major projects and big “wins” when everything ran smoothly.

“For most of us, we have warmer feelings for the projects we worked on when everything went wrong. We remember how the group stayed at work until 3 AM, ate cold pizza, and barely made the deadline . . . It was not because of the hardship per se, but because the hardship was shared. It’s not the work we remember with fondness, but camaraderie . . . Our best days at work were the ones where we helped each other endure and overcome hardship.”

My guess is that we’ve all experienced this — at home, in orealizations and efforts we care about, and yes…even at work. The chips were down. The deck stacked against us. But an inspired tribe joined forces around a shared vision.

Clear Vision And High Functioning Teams

Sticking with Sinek’s book for a moment — he suggests that the challenge for today’s leaders is articulating an inspiring vision in an environment of abundance.

In short, when times are good an organization with no burden to overcome has an interesting challenge — communicating a vision that rallies the troops.

On the other hand, for the start-up joined in a clear pursuit, each day is a corporate challenge to stay alive.

We instinctively know that a team can accomplish more — maybe even get us to Jupiter. But building and motivating highly functioning teams in an environment of success is a challenge, if not a messy proposition.

But this is what leaders do.

We find ways to articulate the vision of what might be, and build teams that, unprepared to wait for disaster to strike, proactively march into the face of tomorrow’s opportunities.