Achieving our goals in uncertain times

Special forces soldiers jump out of a plane

Achieving our goals in a churning world requires very 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 means looking for organisations that are already experts at doing what we want to do and then copying or adapting their approach.

So: which organisations are already best practice at achieving specific, measurable goals in highly unpredictable situations?

I can’t think of a better example than elite army units. Special forces operating behind enemy lines know how to accomplish their objectives in fast-changing, unpredictable, and even hostile environments.

They achieve this by defining two things.

The first is that, as well as knowing their mission objective, they make sure every member of the team also understands the purpose of the mission, the role it plays as part of the wider campaign. Then, when things turn out differently from how they expected, every person can find new ways to achieve the same purpose — independently if necessary.

The second is that every unit is given rules of engagement. These define what actions (such as returning fire) are allowed and not allowed under different circumstances. This reduces distractions, keeps the unit focused on its priorities, maximising 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 underlying why, behind whatever we are doing. Being clear about our purpose enables us to keep facing in the same direction even when the world around us changes.

Our values show us which issues are priorities for us. They also show us which issues we can ignore (which is probably even more useful). This keeps us focused on what matters most to us.
Our values also define how we choose to behave, no matter what other people might say or do. Knowing our values keeps us centred and grounded and able to take the best actions for us. It helps us step into the unknown. This maximises productivity and helps us to achieve our purpose.

Defining purpose and rules of engagement enables elite army units to succeed in highly dynamic, even hostile environments.

Defining our own purpose and values gives us the focus and flexibility to achieve the results we seek — even in a changing world.

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

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

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Photo By USASOC News Service via

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