Are you a strategic thinker? Would you like to be? When you think of strategy, what comes to mind? The formal definition reads “a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal”. How many of you think of war tactics at the mention of strategy? That was the dictionary’s secondary definition of the word —“the science or art of planning and conducting a war or military campaign”. That’s exactly what we’re going to focus on today: strategically waging war on the mediocrity in our lives.
Before you start beating yourself up and wishing that you had the gift of strategy, let me share that I don’t believe most people are naturally wired to think strategically. I’m not sure that it’s a gift we’re born with as much as it is a skill that we must commit to develop. As with any skill, the more we study and practice it, the stronger and better we will become in that area. Militaries act strategically and businesses do the same, so let’s take a look at how we can learn from them.
How do militaries strategically determine their battle plan? They study the terrain, consider all angles, play out every different possible scenario and evaluate each corresponding outcome before deciding on the best course of action. Successful businesses conduct themselves in a similar way. In my former life of Corporate America, I worked in the strategic planning department for a global bank. When I first took the position, I was only a couple years out of college just looking for a decent job, and I knew absolutely nothing about the concepts of strategic planning. What I learned very quickly, was that it basically all boils down to exactly what we’ve discussed over the past couple of weeks—starting with the end in mind. It was our responsibility to keep our eyes on the horizon, looking ahead of the current struggles and situations. When it came time to develop the strategic plan for the coming years, we would all sit down for scheduled “strategy sessions”. We would start by identifying the goals and objectives that our team needed to meet by the end of the given time period (most of which were handed down to us from higher up the food chain). We would then identify the key players, potential obstacles, market trends, available resources, needed resources, time constraints, and any other parameters that would factor in to whether or not we reached our desired finish line.
Next, we went through the “chunk it down” process, which means we would start with the overall timeframe, and work backward from there to break it down into smaller “chunks” of time, such as quarters and months. (For my corporation, we were usually designing the strategy for three years at a time. While the same is genius for your personal life or small business, it can sometimes be challenging to plan that far down the road, especially if you’re new to strategic planning. So, at a minimum, we want to plan and strategize for a year in advance.)
Benchmark goals were assigned to those smaller chunks to ensure that we would remain on-target to achieve the main annual goals. The team would know from the very beginning what progress needed to be made each month and quarter in order to progress appropriately. Those benchmarks would become similar to mile markers on a marathon, helping us to see how far we had come and the distance still remaining.
Then, the final step of the strategic planning process was to develop the plan of action to reach each of those milestones. As we worked to achieve each of the smaller benchmarks, they would all add up to create the annual victory. We were eating the corporate elephant one bite at a time. So, how can we take these lessons learned from military and business experts and apply them in our own lives?
As entrepreneurs and dreamers, it is critical that we become business-minded and learn to analytically approach our goals just as any other corporation would. We must get rid of the fund-raiser mentality of “taking orders” and move beyond “hobby” habits of working when we feel like it. The only difference is that we’re not given our goals—we get to choose them on our own. When we learn to study our picture, design a plan, evaluate our different options and then work the numbers to get us there, it allows us to take emotion out of the equation. When we gain control of our emotion, it allows us to work in discipline, which allows us to gain control of our income.
And of course, as we have discussed at length, these same concepts can apply far beyond the walls of business into our personal lives as well. When we switch from reactionary living to on-purpose living, we learn to create a bull’s-eye for our life and then work backwards to create that reality by taking specific actions that will align our life in the direction of those goals.
But what about setbacks? How do we incorporate the lessons learned from War Heroes and Wall Street when things don’t go as planned? We’ve all experienced seasons in our own life where unplanned obstacles threaten to sideline us. They come crashing into our lives in the forms of sickness, death, heartbreaks, family struggles, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, financial crises and more. Whether the challenge is a natural disaster, or an emotional one, they threaten to destroy us with equal force. How do we prepare for these in advance, much less come back from them after we’ve been derailed?
While it would be impossible to imagine exactly how we would respond in each different scenario, the benefit of having clearly defined goals for your life and business plus a strategic plan to help you reach those goals is perhaps even more crucial to your lifelong success in the face of adversity. If you’ve ever faced disaster, it can seem to strike like lightening, coming out of nowhere, then gone in a flash, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake and you to pick up the pieces. As you stand there eyeing the wreckage, this becomes the proverbial fork in the road. Is the pain and damage very real? Absolutely. But are you going to allow the situation to define you? Or are you going to use it as fuel to propel you into the person you want to become?
Without the framework of that long-term vision for your life, it could become very easy to slip into a scarcity mindset and victim’s mentality. But if you have a clearly defined purpose already in place, it allows you to draw strength from within to create new victory from your crumbled circumstances. It will, by no means, be easy. But if you will resist slipping into reactionary mode with every fiber of your being, you can make the on-purpose decision to reevaluate your situation, make any necessary adjustments, and then realign your actions with the strategic decisions that will be required to reposition yourself for success. It has been said that you can measure a person’s character by what it takes to stop her. And character is not built in adversity—it’s revealed in adversity.
In fact, one could define success as the sum total of strategic choices made (and properly executed) to position—and reposition—oneself on the path of life, according to one’s clearly identified and stated goals. We must remember that not having a plan is still very much a plan. While one is on purpose, and one is reactionary, they will both take you to an equally real destination. One road leads to excellence, while the other loops endlessly in mediocrity. As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” The battle lines have been drawn, which side will you choose? It must be an on-purpose decision that we make each day in order to become independently successful, financially stable, and emotionally healthy as we wage war on mediocrity in our own little corner of the world!