[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.