Imagine you’re Cpl. Mike Stevenson, a Royal Marine, waiting a few miles off the coast of Iraq for word from your commander that it’s time for your mission to begin. For months, you’ve been preparing and planning to lead your team on a mission to an Iraq target, via Sea King helicopter.
Every Marine in your section knows this mission inside and out, down to the range between each building and the escape plan, should they need it.
Just as the helicopter door is about to close, the commander appears. He shouts, “There has been a change of plan. You have to attack a totally different target, about 10 klicks from the original location.”
How would you react?
Most people would feel unsettled by the sudden change, and their reactions might be driven by a “fight or flight” impulse. But elite soldiers like Stevenson are trained to respond differently.
Royal Marines have been trained to convert uncertainty (and fear) into well-defined risks. From day one, they undergo a series of unique surprises. They might be told to prepare for a group exercise on the Scottish Moors but are then plopped down near a heavily guarded Cyprus fort and told to take control of it.
Through experience, they gain knowledge. So when a situation changes and they’re faced with uncertainty, they immediately begin to deconstruct the situation and fill in their knowledge gaps with everything they’ve learned. Their past experience helps mitigate their fear of the unknown.
Because of this training, officers like Stevenson can respond well in situations like the one described earlier. To his commander, Stevenson simply said, “No problem, sir. I knew it was too good to be true!” and wrote down the new grid reference.
To help your troops manage risk and change, help them access the information that will allow them to react well—and without fear.
— Adapted from “Manage Risk Like a Royal Marine,” Arnoud Franken and Andy Salmon, HBR Blog Network.
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