Fight the Fight, Not the Plan

by Lee Buford on October 17, 2012

Pressure is a strange thing, and different people react very differently in “pressure-filled” situations. We’ve all been there, and we’d all likely do something a bit differently given a mulligan in certain situations we’ve encountered. There’s no certain, set blueprint for handling pressure, but there are some things that can help all of us handle it better than we have in the past.

Paul Sullivan has written an excellent book, Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t. It’s been out a while, and perhaps you’ve read it. If not, I encourage you to do so. While there are many great ideas in the book, one stands out to me in particular relative to our capacity to excel under pressure … one key “must do” that we all need to embrace. Here’s how Sullivan relates it:


“Those who wilt when the pressure is the hottest fall back on what they expected to do ahead of time, as if it were a security blanket or the only way forward. Those who succeed under pressure readjust: They focus on the goal that needs to be accomplished, not a specific way to accomplish the goal.”

In other words, those who excel under pressure are willing to change course when the situation dictates such a move. They are not insistent upon ‘dying on a certain hill’ for the sake of the original plan.

As Sullivan goes on to write, Colonel Thomas Kolditz, the head the behavioral studies program at West Point, preaches this to his cadets:

“We teach our cadets to fight the fight, not the plan. There is a break point where the plan goes in the trash. That’s the skill. The focus is on intent. It’s outcome based.”

In the end, it’s not about pride or being right the first time. It’s not about proving that your original plan or idea was correct. It’s about getting it right in the end … winning the war, if not the battle.

Where do you need to readjust? Where do you need to be willing to compromise … to shift to ‘Plan B’? Where do you need to change course for the sake of the outcome?

Fight the fight, not the plan.


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