Friday, October 1, 2010

Still Learning From Failures

I have written often in these pages about the importance of learning from our setbacks. My experience has taught me that we learn infinitely more when we fail than when we succeed. The former pushes us to examine our shortcomings, tighten up our chinstraps, and get back into the arena motivated to improve. Too often, the latter breeds complacency and a misplaced satisfaction with performance that inhibits growth.

So I have come to appreciate the opportunity to learn that challenges and losses typically present. While I certainly prefer to win, I know that aggressive risk-taking and the willingness to reach high inherently puts us in the position to occasionally come up short. The alternative, playing it safe, staying on the sidelines, being afraid, is simply unacceptable. I say...bring it on.

Certainly there are no shortages of setbacks here in Afghanistan. Everything we do here is difficult. Every construction project seems to present multiple opportunities to learn. Corruption, interruptions to the supply chain, hostile environmental conditions, and a hostile enemy are present on almost every job. And yet, my job is not to make excuses, not to be afraid of failing, but to learn from it, make corrections, get better every day, and keep moving forward.

This is the time in the federal "business cycle" where we always take time to determine how we can improve. Our fiscal year ended on September 30th (Happy New Year to my government friends...and those who partner with us). Thus there is no better time to make an assessment of how we might improve our performance. The grades are in. The challenges are too many to enumerate here. There is no time like the present to learn. And I have no doubt that the learning we will do through our After Action Reviews (AARs) will set us on the course for victory in FY2011.

I also want to celebrate another who learned from failure, my daughter Shelby. You may recall my discussion about her willingness to run for school office -- and fail -- not once but two times. Both times were heartbreaking. Yet that little one never gave up. She did not hesitate to jump back into the arena, this time running for President of her high school freshman class. As her father, I was fearful of her losing again, afraid of seeing her heart broken, and worried about what a third setback might mean to her self-confidence. But that little one is a fighter. She never gives up. She would clearly rather fail, falling forward on her face, than to be afraid and timid, falling backward on her tail!

You guessed it. She won! She learned from her failures, ran a great campaign, and finally experienced the thrill of victory. Am I proud of her? You better believe it. Do I wish I had that sort of short-term memory, where I was more focused on the opportunities ahead than the failures in my rear-view mirror? Definitely.

I have no doubt that my daughter learned more from the two previous setbacks than she would have had she won. That is just in our nature. We take success for granted. We rarely look for opportunities to improve when things go well. It is in those failures that we learn the most, where our AARs have the most meaning, and where improvement is the greatest. I see it every day. And I have watched it from a distance in my little daughter, the President! That's Leader Business!

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