"Who am I" What is my purpose?" These are not just matters of personal philosophy or religious creed; they are fundamental to the ultimate success or failure of institutions both large and small. In times of crisis and uncertainty, losing track of the answers to these questions can bring down the whole house of cards. You cannot adapt to new opportunities and challenges if you don't know what to retain that is at the very core of your corporate or personal identity and what is non-essential. You cannot scale up and sustain your efforts at scale unless you know what key qualities of your prior success must be sustained at the new level. And you cannot spend all your time trying to answer these questions because you will get steamrolled by events and miss the chance altogether.
I have been part of organizations that have tried to go to scale and ended up losing vital parts of their identity, culture and effectiveness. I have been part of companies that have stuck to one model of doing things long after it became clear that continuing to do so would result in certain failure. I have been part of coalitions that tried to reinvent themselves without a clear idea of what would appeal to funders, and indeed lost sight of their raison d'etre. All of us have had similar experiences in our professional lives and personal relationships. Look no further than Wall Street and the national divorce rate to see that this is so.
Nathaniel Philbrick, author of "In the Heart of the Sea; The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, observes that effective ship Captains and 1st Mates posses complimentary but quite distinctive personal qualities and that both are requirements of group survival at the extremes of existence. One should possess the vision and authority to act decisively on the best available information and make course corrections when conditions require, and the other have the ability to rally the crew, implement the vision, be alert to changes in the wind: essentially play the role of Mother to the Captain's pater familias. The same relationship doubtless exists in the army command structure between the Company Captain and the senior NCO.
If your organization lacks decisive and authoritative strategic thinkers and effective and perceptive implementers (or, God forbid, both), you are unlikely to weather the crisis when it comes. Getting the proper balance between planning and action, and recognizing that each of us by nature tends to fall on one or the other side of that continuum, is a critical leadership skill.
So pick your institution facing transformational change and new challenges and crises, and ask whether it is clear about its identity and direction and has the right combination of leadership and resilience to make those changes. Pick your politician or your CEO (or spouse, if you let your head guide your heart) with the same eye.