I am a big fan of Batman. Something about a person who can persevere through all of the setbacks he faced and still be victorious is inspirational to me (yes, I know he is fictional). This post is not about Batman, but it is based on one of my favorite quotes from the movie Batman Begins: “Why do we fall down?”
This question was asked to a young Bruce Wayne after the biggest setback he had up to that point. We all fall down at one point because failure is imminent. What matters is what happens next. To finish the movie quote: “Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” We have to pick ourselves back up after we fall. In fact, this is the most important part.
Sometimes it is not so easy to pick ourselves back up. Sometimes we lay there on the ground for a moment in anger or self pity. There are even those times we fall down so hard we need someone to help us get back up and mend our wounds. The one thing all of these have in common is the desire to get back up. We have to make this decision after we fall. Often what this means is having the courage to truly reflect on what happened and accepting responsibility.
We get this idea in our minds that as we progress in rank, we should not fail and failure is the end of the road. In reality, we are going to have more failures in positions of leadership than we did as technicians. Not every decision is going to be correct and we are going to make mistakes. Every fail of our team is our failure as leaders. The trick is to learn from those mistakes. Sitting in the morning meetings with the commander after an incident always leads to a discussion of what happened and then how are we going to fix it. Rather, what did we learn after the fall and how can we prevent us from falling down again?
When we fall, there are a few things we can do.
Get back up. Stop wallowing in self pity for our failing or to stop being angry at the person who overlooked us for a position or to stop being upset with the person who made the mistake in the first place.
Seek the real reason behind the fail. Did we miss a step? Were we getting complacent? Did we simply not meet the expectations outlined for us? Did someone on our team not do their part? Why did we fall?
What is the fix? Once we get to the root cause of the fail, we have to consider what could have been done better. Hindsight is an amazing tool for this. We already know what didn’t work or why it didn’t work and can often see what would have worked more clearly. Ask others for their opinions. We do not seek the advice of our peers often enough and they have great perspective based on their experiences and an outside view. From personal experience, having a solid network of those with talent, is the best resource any NCO or SNCO can have.
The plan. We need to create a plan that will not allow this to happen again. Will it probably happen again at some point in the future? Yes. However, we can take steps based on the advice given and the research we have done for this particular situation and implement some controls to prevent it. This is where a lot of leaders miss a great opportunity. Instead of fixing the issue, they throw some Motrin at the symptoms. For example, the root of the fail was complacency. This person on the team missed a step in the process because they have done the task 1,000 times and did not read the guidance. The leaders then create a local checklist to complete. This is pointless because there is already guidance.
Instead of creating a checklist that adds one more thing to track and control; think about how you can really get to the root of the issue. This person does this task over and over again. They completed this task 1,000 times and are probably getting bored and simply zoning out; a checklist is not going to make them do something different. Instead combat complacency by mixing up his or her job a bit, show the impact of the mistake, educate on why this important, shuffle the team, etc.
We all fall down. Get over it. Get back up and move forward. We always come out better on the other side if we truly accept the reason why we failed and take ownership to fix the real issue.