Why You Need a Mission Statement

Honored Alumni Lecture from Leslie Hinchcliff Edwards

Living in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War will undoubtedly presents opportunities that are never to be forgotten. Leslie Hinchcliff Edwards, the 2021 Honored Alumni from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, graduated from BYU in 1971 with a BS in social work and teaching certificates in history and sociology. But her work in Saudi Arabia was with TV and radio as an NBC on-site coordinator. 

Edwards and her husband Jack were given the chance to leave Saudi Arabia with their three children as tension thickened, but each of the family members received a distinct impression to stay and be of service. 

“How to serve in a potential warzone?” Edwards mused. “We had no idea, but we packed and returned to the Kingdom, led by faith and sure answer to prayer.” 

And serve they did. The family offered refuge to the U.S. soldiers, whether a much-needed hot shower, freshly baked cookies, or a phone call home. Edwards shared that when their time in Saudi Arabia was complete they didn’t have a church magazine or book left in their home because the soldiers were desparate for any reading material they could get their hands on. The Edwards family had a mission there that was created by a spiritual experience that gave them purpose and direction. 

Speaking to students last week, Edwards taught the importance of identifying your purpose through a mission statement. She taught about three principles in the mission statement from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences that could help students identify purpose and direction, much like her family’s spiritual experience did for them during wartime. 

Part of the mission statement is here for reference, with Edwards’ principles in bold: “Through exacting research and dedicated teaching, that integrate the values and doctrines of the restored Gospel, we hope to provide an education that helps students become informed citizens and thoughtful leaders who make the communities and families in which we live more just, equitable, and happy.”

Edwards touched on each principle with examples from her own life and the lives of her family members. She encouraged listeners to be informed, identify values that are important to them, and lead with care and compassion. 

On being informed, Edwards shared, “As a former journalist and very judicious American citizen, let me tell you that if you do not operate on a foundation of facts, no one is going to take you seriously… If you don’t know something, it’s okay! Be teachable and use your knowledge for good.” 

Edwards’ daughter Kristin has had a decorated career with the U.S. government, especially with counter-terrorism work. Kristin has faced some difficult decisions in her line of work but in speaking to a group of students a few years ago, she said, “You’ve been taught your entire lives about setting goals, working for something important, and having a plan. That’s part of life. But the other part of life is knowing that the plan is always going to change. Identify what matters most to you, establish the values you want to live by, and then life’s tough, pressure-filled decisions will be easier.” 

Each of us will face kinks in even the most well thought-out plan. But just as Edwards’ daughter taught, if we decide what is valuable to us, we will be able to stay true to ourselves when forks in the road do come. 

The last principle Edwards touched on was the goal to be “thoughtful leaders.” She asked a series of questions to help reflect on your leadership style. She asked, “Are you collaborative? Are you action-oriented? Do you serve? How do you communicate? Are you resilient?”

Edwards ended her lecture with the story of the Ubuntu tribe of South Africa. When a tribe member does something wrong, that member is taken to the center of the village, where the tribe surrounds them. For two days, the tribe will remind the wrongdoer of all the good he or she has done. The tribe believes that each person comes into the world only desiring safety, love, peace, and happiness. They recognize that people make mistakes and that these mistakes are a cry for help. So, the tribe recounts all the good the wrongdoer has done to reconnect them back to their true nature. 

How different would our lives be if we were constantly reminding those around us of the good they’ve done? Edwards shared that, “if we look for the good, we will find it,” and that our personal mission statement can help us want to find the good in ourselves and others. 

To develop your personal mission statement, Edwards encouraged the following: Think about your most formative life experiences and how they have shaped you, “craft a concise purpose statement that leaves you energized, and finally, develop a purposeful plan.” 

Take some time this week to think about what’s important to you and how you’re going to get there! Rest assured, plans will change, but a mission statement can remind you of why you started your educational journey and where you want it to take you. 

For more about Leslie Hinchcliff Edwards and her career supported by a social science degree, check out this Y Magazine article

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