Achieving our goals in uncertain times

Special forces soldiers jump out of a planeAchieving our goals in a churning world requires different skills from achieving the same outcomes in a stable environment.

What are those skills and how can we acquire them?

One way to find out is by benchmarking. This involves looking for other industries that are already expert at doing what we want to achieve and then copying them. So where is the best practice example of achieving specific, measurable goals in highly unpredictable environments?

I can’t think of a better example than elite army units. Special forces operating behind enemy lines start from the assumption that their plan will not survive first contact with the enemy. But they somehow manage to achieve their objectives in highly unpredictable, even hostile environments.

They accomplish this by defining two things.

  • First, as well as knowing their objectives (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 how they expected, each person can adapt to carry out other actions in pursuit of the same purpose. And they can do so quickly and independently of one another.
  • 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 top priorities, reduces distractions, minimises unwanted outcomes, and maximises the chances of success.

By defining these two simple items — purpose and rules of engagement — elite army units are able to go into highly unpredictable, even hostile situations and adapt to changing circumstances in ways that maximise their chances of achieving the outcomes they seek. We can learn from this.

For us, the equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement are our purpose and values. Purpose defines the underlying intention behind what we are doing. It keeps us pointed the same direction. Values define how we choose to behave no matter what might happen around us — no matter what some politicians might say or do, no matter what our colleagues do or say, we know and stay true to who we are. This keeps us centred and grounded. It also stops us getting distracted.

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 our values for ourselves.

Would you like to remain more calm, focused, adaptable, and inspired? Do you know what your life purpose is? Do you know your three core values? Would you like to?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By USASOC News Service via

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