Creating a Strategy for Limitless Success


Growing up, one of my favorite television series was Mission: Impossible. The immensely popular program chronicles the adventures of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), a team of government spies and specialists who are regularly offered “impossible missions” (should they decide to accept them).

Outside of the cool gadgets and spectacular stunts, what I most enjoyed about the series was that it reinforced how, with a well-executed, methodical strategy, just about anything’s possible. Take a lesson from a real life mission impossible, the race to be the first to the South Pole, as a case-in-point.

In 1911, a steady, thoughtful and somewhat reserved Roald Amundsen headed up the Norwegian team in the great race to be first to stake a claim to walking on the South Pole. At the exact same time, flamboyant adventurist Robert Scott directed a team from England intent on achieving the same objective. The two expeditions faced exactly the same unforgiving weather conditions, terrain, and obstacles. They both possessed exactly the same technology, the most sophisticated of its day. All their equipment was virtually identical. Yet, Amundsen and his team reached the South Pole thirty-four days ahead of Scott.

So what made the difference?

A well-executed, methodical plan. You see, Amundsen was a tireless and talented strategist. He understood that achieving extraordinary goals demands setting conditions for success before you begin. In other words, he innately understood that making the seemingly impossible, possible demands you consistently follow a deliberate series of steps that will set the conditions for your success.

For Amundsen and his team, this translated into breaking down their ambitious endeavor into a series of (literally) daily objectives. Specifically, he and his team had to cover fifteen to twenty miles a day. No more, no less. In bad weather (and there is plenty at the South Pole from what I understand), they traveled fifteen to twenty miles. In good weather? You guessed it, fifteen to twenty miles.

Making the seemingly impossible, possible demands you consistently follow a deliberate series of steps that will set the conditions for your success.

Steady. Consistent. Committed.

Scott, on the other hand, was irregular in his approach and outright erratic in execution. Instead of adopting a deliberate, measurable methodology, his team opted to push to exhaustion when the weather was good and decided to stay put when the weather was bad. Two leaders, both with the exact same impossible-size dream, with drastically different approaches. And, perhaps not surprisingly, both achieved two very drastically different outcomes.

Amundsen and his team won the race without losing a single man. They were the first to achieve something people for generations had deemed impossible. Conversely, Scott lost not only the race but lost his life and lives of every person he was leading. For them, the mission proved not only impossible, but sadly, fatal. All for lack of a well-executed, methodical strategy for success.


In the military, we take strategy seriously. Strategy enables an individual, team or organization to know where they are, where they are going and the way to get to their desired destination. Developing a smart strategy translates intention into focused action. It transforms bold goals into inspiring realities.

As you prepare to enter the promise of a new year, I’d like to encourage you to consider tackling an ambitious “Mission: Impossible” size goal of your own. Whether it’s a personal goal, such as adopting a healthier lifestyle, an organizational goal such as being a more effective supervisor or a societal goal such as doing something to end childhood hunger in your city, here are proven insights from my last two plus decades of creating strategies for pushing myself and those I lead into new, challenging yet immensely rewarding territory.

Developing a smart strategy translates intention into focused action. It transforms bold goals into inspiring realities.

Plan on Making Mistakes

Fear of falling short keeps many people living small. Don’t buy the lie that failure is fatal. Life is not about finding yourself; it is about creating yourself…one opportunity at a time. You have to take chances to make your dreams a reality. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. In fact, plan to make lots of them! Your odds for success will increase with the number of deliberate decisions you make and active steps you take in the direction of your goals.

Learn How to Say No

In our hurried society, being busy is celebrated. Saying Yes to doing more seems to be the path of the high achiever. Don’t buy that lie. The truth is, not everything is worth doing. While saying Yes supports risk-taking, embodies courage, and reflects a willingness to lead an open-hearted life of seemingly inexhaustible grace, knowing when to say No is what will actually keep you on track. Remember, you are the agent of your own limits. Commit to saying No if it will keep you moving forward when it would be easier to say Yes to giving in to the demands of the crowd.

Always Make Deliberate Choices

The decisions you make every day can change your life forever. You do not choose to be born. You do not choose your parents. You do not choose the country of your birth. You do not choose the circumstances of your upbringing. Despite this whole realm of choicelessness, you can and do choose how you will live. So live to be intentionally productive. Quit tracking your time and start tracking your results. Put first things first and resolve to get the right things done. Choose to stay true to those things in your plan.

You are the agent of your own limits. Commit to saying No if it will keep you moving forward

Never Underestimate Your Personal Power

I’m sure there were many times in the quest for the South Pole that Roald Amundsen and his crew felt they couldn’t go on. I’m confident they encountered numerous moments when they felt the goal was too bold, the dream too big, and the next step too difficult. Nonetheless, history confirms they did not allow the momentary challenges to paralyze them; the present difficulty to overwhelm them; or the fear of failure to intimidate them. Imagine what you could accomplish if you believed no dream was too big, no challenge too daunting, no mission was impossible.

Although I cannot be there to see you step up to a life lived with intensity, purpose, and meaning as you pursue your New Year’s goals, know my best wishes go with you. I encourage you to cherish every second, every moment. Seize them all – to accomplish, to celebrate, to act, to be your best self. Do not imitate anyone else. Have patience with your dreams and be deliberate in executing your plan. Live as if this is your last day.

Be Steady. Consistent. Committed. Believe achieving your mission is absolutely possible.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Image credit: rangizzz / 123RF Stock Photo

John is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. The senior-curator for, he is an accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster who has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts. His award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. In addition to serving our nation as an active duty General Officer in the United States Air Force, John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. He is blessed to be married to the most patient person on the planet and together, they have two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website,

  • Panama

    An outstanding summary of one of the greatest achievements in polar exploration. John might have added that the choices that Roland Amundsen made were the difference between life and death. Scott’s party perished on the ice– after reaching the south pole and finding the Amundsen’s team had already been and gone. Scott rolled the dice, Amundsen lived the life. One of the reasons the Norwegian succeeded is that he learned as much as he could about polar travel, spending several winters with the Inuit in Greenland. Dream big. Train Hard. Have a plan. Good stuff, John!

  • Panama…spot on! Thank you for the insight add. Your summary does a masterful job of highlighting the dimensions of a life well lived…”Dream Big. Train Hard. Have a P.L.A.N.” Bravo. Warmly and Respectfully, John

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  • Graham Little

    Last year I was asked, and honored, to be the guest speaker at an ALS graduation at Minot AFB. My speech focussed on the Amundsen strategy of decisive planning and setting a daily goal everyday. The aspect of never overextending yourself, even if you can (learn to say “no”), is a crucial technique, as it builds momentum for the long-run (no short term wins). I noticed that two Group Commanders from the 91st Missile Wing were taking notes during my speech, both later emailed out the article that I referenced, and both colonels plus the wing commander mentioned to me afterwards as to the details of the strategy and where I got it. I of course pointed them and others to General Leadership. What a great node for spreading leadership and strategy information (at Both the 5 BW and 91 MW recently received an “Excellent” in their NSI’s. The mantra of “steady, consistent, and committed” pays off big time!

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