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 these skills and how can we acquire them?

One answer is by benchmarking: by looking for other industries that are already experts at doing what we want to do and copying them. So which industries are best practice at 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 what their objective is (to capture the target, gather intelligence, or whatever) they also make sure that every member of the team understands the wider purpose of the mission: the role it plays as part of a larger campaign. Then, when things turn out differently from how they expected, every person can act independently to carry out new actions in pursuit of the same goals.
  • Second, every 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, and maximises the chance of success.

For us, the equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement are our purpose and values:

  • Our purpose defines the underlying intention, the ‘why’, behind what we are doing. It keeps us pointed the same direction.
  • Our values define how we choose to behave no matter what happens — no matter what our colleagues, clients, or politicians say or do, we know who we are and stay true to that. We stay centred and grounded and able to take the best actions for 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.

Would you like to increase your ability to get the results you want in a changing world? Do you know your life purpose and your core values? Would you like to?

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

You can sign up to daily posts here.

Photo By USASOC News Service via

Leave a Reply