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Mercenary or Missionary ?

mercenary or missionary

This afternoon, I listened to a lecture that John Doerr (the legendary partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield) delivered at the Stanford Business School. Many consider John Doerr to be the critical brain behind some of Kleiner Perkins’ best investments like Amazon, Sun Microsystems, Netscape, and Uber, which today have a market value of approximately half a trillion dollars. 

In the lecture What It Takes to Be a Remarkable Leader, Doerr speaks about the kinds of companies and leaders he likes to bet on and what he believes it takes to create long-lasting value in the current fast-paced world. He says the people he is most eager to work with are missionaries. He calls the others, the ones he finds less compelling, mercenaries

Who are Mercenaries and Missionaries? What differentiates companies led by Mercenaries from those led by Missionaries? 

While the two might seem similar at first glance, they are, in fact, very different, Doerr points out. 

Mercenaries are driven by paranoia;

Missionaries are driven by passion.

Mercenaries think opportunistically;

Missionaries think strategically.

Mercenaries go for the sprint focussing on the short term;

Missionaries go for the marathon, concentrating on the long term.

Mercenaries focus on their competitors and financial statements;

Missionaries focus on their customers and value statements.

Mercenaries are bosses of wolf packs;

Missionaries are mentors or coaches of teams.

Mercenaries worry about entitlements;

Missionaries are obsessed with making a contribution.

Mercenaries are motivated by the lust for making money;

Missionaries, while recognizing the importance of money, are fundamentally driven by the desire to make meaning.

Mercenaries strive for success;

Missionaries aspire to “success and significance.”

While Doerr introduces the idea of mercenary and missionary to describe entrepreneurs’ cultural orientation, the attributes he describes are not necessarily unique only to entrepreneurs. In the way we approach life in general, they can apply to any one of us too. 

After listening to the lecture, I found myself checking whether I behave like a Mercenary or a Missionary.

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