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Not hitting your targets on purpose, SAS-style

My kids love the TV programme “SAS: Who Dares Wins”. If you haven’t seen the show, a group of ex-Special Forces instructors put members of the public…and occasional celebrities…through their paces as if they were on the famously-tough SAS selection course.

I don’t imagine for a moment the TV show covers every challenge real applicants to the UK’s most elite special forces endure. But, frankly, I wouldn’t even do the version we see on TV, so I take my hat off to those who try it for real.

Recently they’ve introduced a new test where “recruits” are given a rifle then blindfolded, dragged through the undergrowth by an instructor, being pushed, shoved and shouted at constantly while explosions erupt all around them.

Once they’re thoroughly disorientated, recruits’ hoods are whipped off. Now they have a split-second to decide whether to “shoot” a figure dressed in all in black who’s sprinting out a building towards them, carrying a firearm.

There’s the tiniest clues, easily overlooked when you’re completely disorientated and confused – a shoulder-patch with the flag of a friendly country, perhaps.

That’s the split second decision. Friend or foe? End a life or save a life?

Get it right and you’re special forces material. Get it wrong and you’re the one going home in a body bag if you’re on your own behind enemy lines.

Thankfully that’s not a decision most of us will ever make…on TV or in real life.

But it’s not unlike the crazy, chaotic, fast-paced world of business. Several times a day, you’ve make split second decisions with long-term consequences.

Do you apologise to the customer, even if it wasn’t your fault, or tell them to get lost?

Do you fire a member of staff, or accept everyone, including you, makes mistakes from time to time?

Do you make promises with a straight face to customers, funders and lenders knowing your chances of delivering on them are slim, or have a difficult conversation now and try to work out a way forward everyone can live with?

The coward’s way out is always to take the “obvious” action.

If someone’s running towards you carrying a gun, you shoot.

If the customer is technically in the wrong, per your 40-page terms and conditions, you tell them to get lost.

If the staff member has done something silly, you prove who’s boss by firing them.

If customers, lenders or funders are putting you under pressure, you tell them what they want to hear for now and hope you can weasel out of delivering somewhere down the line.

It’s easy to “hit the target” and do the obvious thing. That’s much, much easier than pausing for a split second to think more broadly about the situation.

Heroes…the sort of people who work in special forces…are specifically trained not to take the coward’s way out and blast away at every target regardless.

Smart business leaders do the same. They apologise to the customer, they give that staff member another chance, they tell the truth to lenders and investors, even if that causes them problems in the short-term.

Cowards shoot first and ask questions later. Heroes know when not to pull the trigger.

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