Achieving your goals in uncertain times

Special forces soldiers jump out of a planeAs we start a new year, achieving our goals in a churning world will require a different set of skills from achieving the same outcomes in a stable environment.

What are those skills and how can we acquire them? One answer is by benchmarking.

Benchmarking is the process of looking at other industries to find someone who is already expert at what you want to do — then copying them.

In this case, the best practice example of achieving 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. Yet they somehow manage to achieve their objectives in highly unpredictable, even hostile environments.

They do 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 expected, each person can 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 reduces distractions, minimises unwanted outcomes, and maximises the chances of success.

By defining these two simple principles — 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 highly changing circumstances. And they enable each team member to adapt independently or collectively, while remaining aligned with the same overall goal and intention.

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 our values for ourselves.

Do you know what your personal purpose in life is? Do you know your three core values? If you did, would they help you to remain calm and focused in a time of change and give you more energy to achieve your goals?

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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