Creating The ‘Mission Decision Line’

At some point in a project, you need to commit, with no other option but success
By Scott Mann, Rooftop Leadership Training
May 16, 2019 Updated: May 16, 2019

Back in 2005, in southern Afghanistan, I was a mission commander for a group of special operators and host nation soldiers who were going deep into the Uruzgan Province. The deeper we flew into Taliban sanctuary, the tighter the knot in my stomach grew as the pilots called off phase lines into my headset. That knot grew until they called off the mission decision line (MDL).

In special operations, the MDL is an easily recognizable line on the ground, and on your map, that tells everyone involved with the mission that once you’ve crossed it, there’s no turning back. It’s the point of no return. No matter what happens, you’re going forward with the mission.

When we crossed that line, I felt a sense of relief. Doesn’t that sound crazy. I sure thought so. So much so, that I looked around inside the chopper to see what my guys were feeling. You know what I saw? Teeth! Operators grinning from ear to ear.

They were starting to lean into the mission set. You could see the tension melting away. Why?

I think it’s because all other options were gone. We were singularly focused on the target at hand. Whatever waited for us up in those mountains, we were going forward to meet it together. We had trained for this, we had prepared for this, and there was a high level of energy around that.

I believe this applies to your life, here at home. Whether you are military or civilian, we have too many choices these days. We have inundated ourselves in this society with so many choices, so many safety nets, for our kids and for ourselves, that there is no struggle; there is no risk in pursuing the things that light our fire. As a result of that, we’ve become too pasty, staying right in the middle of the road, in the bleachers, outside the arena.

When we have too many choices in life; we don’t commit to the things that are in front of us; we don’t commit to the things that are on our heart. Creating all of these safety-net choices slowly erodes the confidence that our people have in us. When you think about your goals, don’t look for plan B and plan C; don’t look for the safety net. Go for it. Focus on plan A. We’ve allowed contingency planning to supersede the primary planning, and as a result of that, we don’t fully commit to things in mind, body, and spirit.

High performers don’t start with the contingency plan in mind. You make a plan, and bring everybody into it, involve them it, establish the common direction and vision. Then you set your MDL, a line in time or space that says, “When we cross this, there’s no turning back.” And then you execute it relentlessly and learn from your failures.

I think if more people used this approach, we would find that it creates more psychological safety for the people we lead, for the clients who buy from us, for the investors deciding whether or not they should take a chance on us, the donors trying to decide on putting money toward your nonprofit, or for the people you serve with that nonprofit who have entrusted their needs to you.

All those elements require psychological safety. Your kids won’t follow your guidance without it. If you’re not singularly committed to the thing you’re doing, then how will others find safety in what you’re proposing? People respect those who establish an MDL, cross it, and don’t look back.

That’s who we follow; that’s who’s relatable; that’s who’s relevant; that’s who owns the room.

Gather your team. Take a look at your life and your business. Ask yourselves, “Is there something on our horizon that we want to pursue? Could we establish a mission decision line between where we are now and where we want to go?” Then, act! Agree with all your heart that when you cross it, there’s no turning back. No plan B. It’s all in.

That’s the power of the MDL. Put it to work in your life and you’ll find that people follow you up the ladder, not because they have to but because they choose to.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit