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.

Benchmarking means looking at other industries that are already experts at what we want to improve and copying them. So which industries are already 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 mission objective is 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 purpose.
  • 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 main 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 whatever we are doing. It keeps us pointed the same direction, even if the ways we do it change.
  • Our values show us which issues are priorities for us and which issues we can ignore, which maximises our productivity. And they define how we choose to behave no matter what happens — no matter what colleagues, competitors, clients, or politicians might say or do, our values keep us centred and grounded and able to take the best actions for us.

By being clear on our purpose and our 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?

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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