Doing a good thing and doing the right thing are not always the same. Sometimes that good idea evolves into a waste of time, or even worse, it was a trap or ambush from the very beginning.
Sometimes the right thing feels wrong.
How do we decide?
Mission planning is a big deal in the military, obviously. Every mission is a specific desired outcome with near every detail planned and accounted for. Regardless of having 30 minutes or 30 days to plan a mission, there was a formula for creating commitment to and communication through an objective.
When I say commitment there I don’t mean making sure each guy still had the desire to do the job. If you are mission planning you are well past that point. What I mean by commitment is discussing and discerning the value of an objective: why it was given to us and why we must achieve 100% success.
If a mission had been given to us, that was our sole point of existence at that time. It didn’t always mean our mission was the most important thing in the world, but it was the most important thing in the world to us. There is a word in the SEAL Ethos, “Uncompromising”, that describes this level of commitment.
I remember a specific situation where our mission was not the primary mission but our mission was to support the primary mission. That day we would not be the guys on target doing the big mission, but our job was just as important. We were holding an overwatch position high up on a hill overlooking the target. Our job was to observe the target waiting for a VIP to arrive and confirm his position and identity, then provide fire support to the other team that was coming in to grab him.
There were countless opportunities to do some “good work” on that overwatch, but taking action on any of those opportunities would have betrayed the mission. It would have distracted from and destroyed the greater opportunity to get the VIP.
I experienced this situation again back in 2017. A horrible hurricane had just come through Houston. Extreme levels of flooding, many life emergencies. People needed help.
We were in Dallas, a few hours North of Houston and unaffected by the hurricane. Within 24 hours, A group I work with had immediately put an 18 wheeler together full of much needed supplies, all local donations. As we were finishing filling up the truck I spoke with one of the leaders, “so where is this going?” The immediate look on his face told me all I needed to know. He tried to explain his plan.
I said, “Why don’t you let me and AC go down early tomorrow morningahead of the truck. We will find who needs help and then give you a route.”
AC was a Houston local who had just happened to be in Dallas during storm. He knew the area.
Many of the roads, including portions of the interstate were under a few feet of water.
I knew what we were getting into. I expected chaos. Nothing is ever organized in these situations.
As we started to reach the effected areas, we saw a lot of loss and devastation.
People walking up the side of the road with family and belongings. Many homes deep underwater. Lots of cars and groups stuck in medians.
In emergencies and under adrenaline, peoples decision making abilities are fractionalized. It really compounds these types of situations.
We also spoke to some friends that were working with local and national government support agencies to help get people evacuated.
There was a lot of “good work” that needed doing. So many people had just lost everything and desperately needed help. We encountered countless opportunities to serve those in true desperate need.
As we drove right along past one of the many groups of people that needed our help, AC finally asked me, “Should we stop and help?”
I quickly replied, “No.”
I paused, “Those people truly needed our help, but that is not our mission. We have 4 tons of food, water and supplies rolling 8 hours behind us. We are the only ones responsible for getting those supplies to the right location. Helping those people right now would be a MISSION KILLER. We will help more later if we can.”
AC looked back at me slightly stunned, and then I saw it click. He understood.
It felt cold, and calculated. The opposite of the compassion for the need that got us there. But emotions are an indicator, not a guide. While many in that situation were operating on feelings of sorrow, desperation, or a deep desire to help, Following our hearts that day could have deprived hundreds or thousands from the support they desperately needed. This situation did not need any more feelings, it needed strategy and sound decision making. It needed a plan.
As we got further into the city and the direct path of the hurricane the needs grew and the water got deeper. We were scouting all the different neighborhoods and suburbs. Some had needs greater than others. Some were far more organized. Some had already started receiving support.
We eventually found our way to a high school with a large population of people gathered. The high school was above the water line in an area where more than 50% of those in the school district had a home still under 3-5 feet of water.
The school principal and her staff had begun to organize the effected and inventory the need. They had setup their gyms as a warehouse and walk through free shopping center for those who needed it. Thousands from the school district would be visiting the school daily over the next few weeks for food, water, shelter and clothing.
Our truck had found its target.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of doing a good thing. It is so so easy to get distracted, in everything we do. That’s why mission focus is so important.
Mission focus isn’t just for the SEAL Teams or Hurricane Emergencies. Mission focus is knowing your mission, understanding the priority of your mission, and executing effectively on your mission.
What was our mission that day? Our mission was to find a home and route for all the resources to get to the people that needed it. Failure would mean those in need going without and the donations of hundreds not fulfilling a need.
Though we would do a lot of good that day, the “good” was not the mission.
I see the “good” get people off course too often. From emergency support to business and making money. Just because you could make money doing something doesn’t mean you should do it. And it might cost you in the long run.
Mission planning in the beginning is important to solidify the commitment to your mission and weigh all the outcomes and options before you encounter them. The battlefield is not the place for brainstorming. Strategic decisions ahead of time create positive results on time.
Weight The Options, know “why”
Plan the Mission
Stay The Course (no mission killers)
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Be more effective. Be what those around you need. Achieve more and be distracted less.