“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat.” These are the words from the former Naval Aviator and best selling author, Denis Waitley. Often times we all look at failure as the end of the road and when we fall down, we do not want to get back up again. However, Waitley goes on to say, “It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
If we ever want to be successful in life, we are going to experience failure. In fact, I challenge you to find someone who you consider a success who has not failed at one point. The simple truth is we all fail; the only difference between those who find success and those who don’t is the willingness to keep trying. We should not fear failure. Obviously we don’t want to start the task with the hopes of failing, but we need to change our mindset about it. Failure is simply an indication that we tried, but it was not enough effort in the right place. Move on and try again with a different plan; fail forward.
The main ways I have found that we fail are: failure to meet the standard, failure to reach the desired outcome, and failure to even try. None of these three are the end of the road, they are simply detours. All can be recovered from and there are vital learning moments in each.
Failing to meet the standard. At one point in our lives or careers we broke a rule or the law. Sometimes it was on purpose and sometimes it was a chain reaction we let spiral out of control. Regardless, we deviated from the standard and need to suffer the consequences. Sadly, our military culture tosses a label on you as a “dirt bag” initially. This pushes those who want to be better to try extra hard to overcome their failure. We start to try and hit home runs with every swing to show the boss what we are capable of, but meanwhile we are misplacing our efforts.
Step 1: Instead of trying to overcome our mistake, own it. Accept the consequences of the mistake and then hold yourself accountable to fix it.
Step 2: You are now under the spotlight and your next mistake will be treated even harsher. Don’t try to do something huge to overcome. Just do your job. Go back to the basics and do them to the best of your ability.
Step 3: After you prove you can be trusted again, the spotlight will fade and you can start to take on bigger challenges once again.
Failing to meet the desired outcome. This is the most common type of failure. For the most part, we strive to do great things for the mission and to help others grow; however, sometimes things do not go as planned. I have failed more times than I can count. I once made a rushed decision to do a tail swap from one plane to another once I saw the aircrew was starting to have issues. We rushed to move all of the cargo, pump more fuel, move the people, and double our efforts to get the next aircraft generated. Meanwhile, the other airplane was fixed and we still had a late mission.
Step 1: Avoid the temptation to blame others or the circumstances. I could have said that I will never do another tail swap again. However, tail swaps are sometimes the right answer.
Step 2: Take a step back and think things through. I failed to listen to and trust the technicians who told me they needed some time to troubleshoot. I should have considered the time it took to swap over to the new aircraft would cause a late no matter what and give them some more time.
Step 3: Work a Plan-B. Something I learned to do was to find an aircraft on the next day’s flying schedule that had similar requirements and make it a priority to prep it. This gave me a hip-pocket spare in case we had to swap and if we didn’t, we were a leg up on tomorrow’s prep.
Failure to try. The last form of failure is to not even try, this is the only way to truly become a failure. To try and fail is not a fail, but if we are not willing to take risks because we are afraid to fail, we have failed. Sometimes we fall short of a personal goal like making rank or when we position ourselves for NCO of the quarter or getting the promotion statement our supervisors were pushing us for. What happens when someone else edges us out? Typically we get upset and adopt the “F- It” attitude and quit.
Step 1: Look where you fell short. What did they do better than us? What can I do better? If nothing else, the person who beat us out this time will not be competing next time and we move up a position by default. If still in doubt, ask a trusted superior or peer for honest feedback.
Step 2: Develop this deficient quality or skill. I remember having a huge chip on my shoulder when I had to start over in my new unit. I was too busy blaming them for overlooking my talents, that I wasn’t actually displaying them. I had to learn to deal with my ego and use my skills to make my new team better.
Step 3: Adopt a positive attitude. As a leader, I am looking to advance those who have a positive attitude and a desire to get better. These are the people I want leading my teams, not those who give up or point fingers at the first sign of adversity. We all face hardships and let-downs, real leaders learn to embrace the suck and move forward.
Knowing what to do when we fail to meet a standard or fall short of our intended goal is a vital piece of knowledge if we are ever going to be a success. It always comes down to seeking out the root cause and seeking to learn how to do things better.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky.