Company statements of vision, mission, and values are the rule rather than the exception these days. Half a century ago, there were very few documents of such a nature. Today it would be considered utterly inept for a business not to have one. A consultant's first suggestion would call for its production.

The same texts that call for company mission statements typically call for individuals to prepare the same for their personal lives. So companies and their employees, churches and their congregants, families and individuals — many people these days can point you to their creed for success.

These written protocols can be very helpful. They focus energy. They allow assimilation of new persons into a group. They can have a corrective benefit in times of crisis. So don't hear me saying anything against them.

But a company or church, family or individual will still need the character component that is larger than a mission statement. It's a bit like maps and charts for navigating the high seas. Good maps are important, but they must be read and executed by the sailors. And if you had to choose between the latest charts and technology in the hands of beginners or veterans with less-ideal equipment, there is little doubt in my mind as to which most of us would choose.

Recently a brawl broke out at a suburban high school in Maryland. It could serve as an illustration of this point about protocols and character, maps and sailors. Students were participating in a school assembly of 750. A confrontation between a student's mother and some girls who had been bothering her child began as a verbal exchange, escalated into a shouting match, and quickly became a free-for-all with pushing and shoving and fisticuffs.

"People were climbing over seats and started fighting about stupid stuff," said one ninth-grade student.

We need the character component that is larger than a mission statement.
But you haven't heard the kicker yet. The assembly that day was about anger management! Students on the stage were acting out "peaceful ways to resolve conflict" as the brawl was taking shape in the room! So much for having a successful assembly, as two people were arrested and eleven others suspended.

The ideal, of course, is not to make the right choice between rules and relationships, written codes and personal conduct but to have both. But that day at Woodlawn High School should be a reminder to all of us.

The key to success is not in words and formulas but true character.