Trying Doesn’t Count; You Have to Deliver

By | September 13, 2019

[September 13, 2019]  In the hottest part of the Summer of 1983, over 200 U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenants were on a 25-mile forced-march in the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Fort Benning, Georgia.  At the 19th mile point, I’d never been so exhausted in my life, when our Battalion Commander drove up beside us in his jeep to say, “You damn babies might be trying but trying don’t mean a crap in my book.”

His unkind words had an immediate and very much intended effect.  It energized us to finish the march.  A small group of us ran the last 500 yards to the end-point.  We were ecstatic; overjoyed that we had made the final and longest marches to complete our 19-week basic course.  Those who did not finish did not graduate.  We learned that mental attitude was just as important as physical strength and endurance to complete that major physical feat.

Later, as we moved from assignment to other assignments, our group of lieutenants learned that leaders make it happen and that failed attempts don’t matter one whit.  Your intent to finish the job or a valiant but failed effort to complete the job means nothing.  Leaders are in leadership positions to complete the mission and care for their followers.  Half-measures don’t make it.

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was a man of great accomplishments.  He was no nail-biter, quitter, or ne’er-do-well of a man.  Like any leader worth his salt, Roosevelt got things done and he understood that it took more than trying and failing.  In his famous quote below, he mocks the ‘cold and time souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’  But it’s in victory that leaders shine the most and are most valued.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Martin was the commander in a jeep that day.  A highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, thrice seriously wounded in action, Silver Star medal winner, and devoted family man.  Martin knew how to set clear standards, hold his men to that standard, and motivate them to achieve anything the Army needed.  I was happy to finally graduate and move on to my first Mechanized Infantry Platoon.  What he taught me stayed with me and I’ve always lived by the idea that trying “don’t mean a crap.”

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

22 thoughts on “Trying Doesn’t Count; You Have to Deliver

  1. Greg Heyman

    Very good article again for today and much appreciated. I called my friends up and gave them an ear full because they are really hung up on letting people that work for them get by on the excuse that they tried. When subordinates don’t finish the job (mission completion), then they might as well quit.

    1. Eric Coda

      That’s what I call …. Leadership. Don’t let another day go by that we compliment trying but only if it leads to more trying until the job is complete.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Thanks. He also won the Nobel Prize for Peace, began construction on the Panama Canal, etc. But we will always remember him for his Rough Rider days.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Another excellent article to add to so many that this leadership website delivers on a daily basis.

  3. Max Foster

    If only our political elites would read this article. Results matter and they matter a lot. Most of them would rather offer policies that sound good but in practice don’t make a lick of a difference. Just like those proposing to eliminate fossil fuels by generating electricity from windmills and solar farms. That may happen but it is many decades in the future. They offer nothing for today.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Good point, Max. Too many would rather pander to their radical, fringe base than work for the common man and woman. Real solutions that get things done is what we want, not some pie in the sky attempt.

    2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Right. That way they can say they had good intentions and they tried, so vote for me. Arghhhhh, what a failed way of doing things.

  4. Mikka Solarno

    Well-written and to the point. Thank you Gen. Satterfield.

  5. The Kid 1945

    Yes, I agree that this is another one of those key articles that shows us what VALUES we should be ascribing to. Many younger folks today simply don’t care about much but they do have a big mouth that is telling us what to do at every turn and that we are deplorables. Values make a difference and this article reinforces that very point.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Excellent idea to teach our children. But we haven’t done that good of a job. Thanks, “Kid”.

  6. Army Captain

    Another great blog posting by Gen. Satterfield. I always enjoy the stories he tells that reinforces his point. Storytelling is one of those skills that all leaders need to hone.

  7. Georgie B.

    Thank you, Dale. Excellent. I believe that leadership is more than motivating (although it is a big part). The first big thing to do is to win their hearts then teach them the skills they need. At that point, show them the right direction and let them go.

  8. Dale Paul Fox

    I remember the Drill Sergeants in my army basic training. They had a special way of motivating us newbies to do better than simply trying. If you tried and failed, they made you try over and over until you got the job done. They accepted nothing less that mission accomplishment. If you couldn’t finish the job, you were kicked out.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Nothing like the fear of a Drill Sgt to motivate a Private to go far beyond what he thinks he can do. 😊

    2. Georgie B.

      Thank you, Dale. Excellent. I believe that leadership is more than motivating (although it is a big part). The first big thing to do is to win their hearts then teach them the skills they need. At that point, show them the right direction and let them go.

    3. ZB22

      If you trust your subordinates and have trained and mentored them properly, you have done your job as a leader. It is up to them to get the job done at that point.

  9. Walter H.

    Ha Ha. Great story, Gen Satterfield. I’m sure as a 2LT, you were scared witless.

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