Defining Failure

By | March 14, 2019

[March 14, 2019] Yesterday, I spoke with several senior officials from a local college near my home. They wanted to understand how to attract more military veterans, and a discussion ensued about what it meant to succeed at college. Then I spoke about how important it was in defining failure to the veteran; specifically, its ramifications when hidden from students.

The mission of any college is to teach students how to think, read, and write clearly. Once anyone can do this, the world is open to them, and the keys to success are in their hands. To define failure, however, is rarely discussed. For example, I mentioned that many veterans attending college meant they were looking at doing nothing constructive other than attending classes.

Colleges, I observed, are content with a student who attends, pa on the list of what’s important. This laissez-faire treatment of veterans attending college on the GI Bill – taxpayer money – is ethically questionable. Anyone attending college should be on a program to learn, graduate, and move on to something else. College is not a lifestyle.

In the U.S. military, we take steps to ensure failure is clearly defined. Indicators are created to help us see if we are on track to achieve our mission. For example, if we are conducting an attack on an enemy strong point, has the enemy artillery stopped shooting and has their resupply effort ceased? If the answer is no, then regardless how well the tactical situation may appear, certain indicators suggest that we are failing.

All leaders must define not just success but also what it means to fail. I would suggest a personal experiment where we look at our job and write down ten indicators of success. That should be easy to do. However, if we were to think about ten signs of failure, I would suggest this is more difficult.

If we do not define failure, then it is easy to travel the path leading to failure without knowing it. We might have some gut instinct that tells us something is wrong, but we will continue to muddle along without any real direction. That is why leaders should be there to ensure those in their care are fully aware of what it takes to be a better, more educated, stronger, more resilient individual.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Defining Failure

  1. Greg Heyman

    Another really good article about an uncommon leadership topic. Thank you.

  2. Dale Paul Fox

    If you want to see a complete failure as a politician and a total nut case, just go to California congresswoman’s Maxine Waters twitter account.
    Complete space cadet.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      The people who elect her are the ones that should have their head’s examined. They don’t realize the harm they cause by electing this crazy person to congress.

    2. Big Al

      Maxine Waters is also a hardcore racist. No one is calling her out on it. But it is there for all to see.

      1. Tony B. Custer

        Bingo! Straight to the point and you are so right.

  3. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Journalism is not the only profession that is failing. Our political class (despite having different legal standards than us) is also failing us. They don’t care about what happens. Staying in political office is their total objective. Everything else is secondary.

  4. Tracey Brockman

    Hi everybody! Hope you are ready for the weekend like me. I will be camping out for the first time this year and taking my whole family. Part of that means figuring out what we do to relax and have fun. But also what we should do to avoid failing to have fun. So, I guess I’m using this idea. 🙂

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Have fun. I don’t focus on the negative but I too make it clear that there are somethings that will cause us to fail at our tasks, missions, or just simple family fun. One example, is doing something stupid like not adhering to basic, commonsense safety standards.

    2. Jonnie the Bart

      It’s that time of year again (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). I know that there are some from “down under” that have opposite seasons.

  5. Yusaf from Texas

    Another good blog post. Keep up the great work here. By the way, I also send these to my cousins in Oklahoma. They too enjoy them.

  6. JT Patterson

    When I took my first job as a teenager, my boss (actually my cousin) on the farm said that to fail meant you didn’t feed the cows or clean their pens. He put it this way and said he would “kick my ass” if I failed. He was older, meaner, and had the money. I paid close attention and did as I was told. Now I apply those same principles for those that work for me. Actually I don’t threaten them but I do clearly state what it means to succeed AND to fail.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      The biggest problem with journalism today is not just that they are violating their own ethics (they twist those ethics to what they “think” is important) but that there is no oversight. There is no organization that looks at any journalistic endeavor and in some way gives them an evaluation. Defining failure is absent. I would think that a decline in their practice of ethics is clearly failure. Will they do anything about it? Not in the short term.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      Well said. I might add that this has been happening now for a long time. All of us know that “the most trusted man in American” Walter Cronkite was a closet communist. He was also anti-American. It took a long time to figure that out. His name will go down in history as nothing different than Benedict Arnold.

      1. Doug Smith

        You are right about this. Many are trying to hide this fact.

    3. Roger Yellowmule

      4. Humanity: Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others.
      This is where today’s journalists fail. Gen Satterfeidl is right, they fail spectacularly!
      It is today an insult to meet a “journalist” because odds are they are highly biased and no one is there to check their ignorance.

  7. Army Captain

    Right on target. Too many leaders focus on success but don’t define failure. So when headed to failure they often don’t see it coming. Failure is not always the absence of success.

    1. Army Captain

      BTW, forgot to mention that I really liked yesterday’s article on moral courage.

      1. Gil Johnson

        Hi Army Captain, hope you’ve been well. Always a pleasure to see you confirm what is written here at Gen Satterfield’s blog.

    2. Kenny Foster

      Good points, Army Captain. And I too enjoyed yesterday’s informative article. Moral courage is difficult … much more difficult that most people believe it to be.

    3. Janna Faulkner

      Good to see you both on this morning. Yes, I agree with you that yesterday’s article was worth a week’s reading in the news. Unfortunately, the US news media has created a playing field of failure that iis of the highest order. They abdicated their responsibilities and are now beginning to pay the price.

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