Achieving your goals in uncertain times

Achieving your chosen way forward in a churning world requires a different set of skills from achieving the same goals in a stable environment.

What are those skills and how can we acquire them?

Benchmarking is the process of looking for existing best practices in other industries and adapting them to meet your own needs. In this case, a best practice example of how to accomplish specific, measurable goals in highly unpredictable environments comes from elite army units. Special forces operating behind enemy lines know that no plan survives initial contact with the enemy. But they achieve their goals despite these difficulties by defining two things:

  • First, as well as knowing their primary objective (to capture the target, gather intelligence, or whatever) they also make sure that every team member understands the wider purpose of the mission: the role it plays as part of the larger campaign. Then, when things turn out differently from what was expected, they can easily adapt to carry out other actions in pursuit of the same overall purpose.
  • Second, each unit is given rules of engagement. These define what actions (such as returning fire) are allowed and not allowed under different circumstances. This keeps the unit focused on its highest priorities. It minimises the likelihood of unwanted outcomes, reduces distractions, and maximises the chances of success.

By defining these two simple principles of conduct — purpose and rules of engagement — elite army units are able to go into highly unpredictable, even hostile territory and adapt to changing circumstances in ways that maximise their potential to achieve the outcomes they seek. They become able to achieve the best that is possible, even under changing circumstances, without the need for everything to run exactly according to plan. And they enable each team member to act independently and remain aligned with a common goal.

As we move forward to accomplish our objectives in a changing world we, too, face unpredictable circumstances. Things will turn out differently from how we expected. People will behave differently from the way we would have liked. Actions we take will have different outcomes from what we intended.

For us the equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement are our purpose and values. These define the underlying intent behind what we are doing and the way we choose to behave no matter what happens around us.

By being clear on purpose and values we give ourselves the focus and the flexibility to achieve the results we seek, even in a changing world. And, unlike the army units, we get to choose our purpose and values for ourselves.

Adapted from Inner Leadership. Buy the Book

Photo By USASOC News Service via

Leave a Reply