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As a business owner and leader with many things on my plate each day, I often feel overwhelmed and unsure of the best use of my time each day. Even on the days when I know my most important thing, it often gets lost in the sea of to-do’s.

This has been one of those weeks where I’ve found myself asking, “What is the most important thing?” and I went looking for help. The book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is often a source of inspiration and I picked it up. This is one of those books I keep handy because I refer to it again and again.

In Made to Stick, the central insight for me is to seek simplicity – find the core of your message, your plans and your life. The Heath brothers found this powerful insight in the US Army. In military operations, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Well, in business and leadership, no plan survives contact with a leader’s busy schedule.

You and I spend countless hours planning our work, only to have these plans rendered useless by situations and circumstances that arise each day.

In the face of this truth, the Army adapted its planning process, introducing a concept called Commander’s Intent or CI.

“CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation.”

“The CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent.”

“Officers arrive at the CI by asking themselves two questions: If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must___________________. The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is _____________________.”

Just like in the Army, planning is important for leaders, and I teach my clients a mission-based approach to meet their goals. It would serve us all well, however, to strip our plan down to its core and develop a “Commander’s Intent” for every initiative we undertake.

This approach makes the objective so clear and focused that you always know what to do, even when your entire day falls apart because your kid is sick or you’re overwhelmed by all the work that could (and needs to) be done.

With a CI, there’s no need to provide play-by-play instructions for yourself or your team. Everyone’s behavior will be aligned to the simple, core intent.

For my upcoming plans, my revenue strategy is tied to doing a certain number of public speaking events, which includes being interviewed on podcasts. So I asked myself two questions during my planning process:

  1. If I do nothing else tomorrow, I must___________________.
  2. The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is _____________________.

My answer to both questions is the same:


And that, folks, is my “Commander’s Intent.” The simple core of my plans.

So, what’s your “Commander’s Intent?”

If you need help finding it, I can help! Contact me today to schedule a 30-minute call. By the end of our time, you’ll have your CI.

And, if you’d like to have me as a guest on your podcast or as a speaker at your next event, please get in touch. Check out my speaking page for details and clips.

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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