PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — “Perfection is the standard; there is no room for incomplete knowledge or substandard performance.” This phrase resonates with the men and women who have pulled intercontinental ballistic missile crew duty, performed work as a missile security forces troop or worked in the world of missile maintenance. These individuals understand the idea that they must be perfect in every aspect of their job. Failure is not allowed, nor an option. This same idea is also found in everyday society; the idea that we must be perfect and failure is something that should be feared – we must never fail.
Failure is a key part to the growth and success of an individual and a team. Coach Tony Dungy compares failure and the growth that can occur from it to weight lifting. When lifting weights, the fibers of the muscles are torn down due to the stress of the weight. The muscle fibers then repair themselves, which leads to the strengthening and growth of the muscles. Growing and learning from failure can be painful; just like the day after a hard workout, egos are bruised, pride is hurt and the disappointment from failing sets in. It is in those days and moments post-failure that the most growth can occur, allowing us to stand a little taller, be a little stronger and, just as important, grow those around us.
Changing how failure is viewed is a key component in how we learn from our failures. Do we look at failure as the end-all, be-all? Or do we look at failure as a springboard to greater success? A first sergeant once told me that failures lead to another opportunity to excel and he is exactly right. Each time we fail, we have opened ourselves up to another opportunity to excel, if we want to. Taking the time to sit down, review why we failed and work through how we will fix this failure is crucial for future successes.
Don’t be afraid to discuss failure. One of the best ways to learn from failure is to identify the reasons we failed and use them as teachable moments for those around us. Showing the willingness to share failures and what you learned shows others that it is OK to fail as long as you take the time to understand why you failed and how not to repeat that same failure.
Learning to use failure productively can foster an environment where people will be more inclined to present new ideas, push the envelope and seek greater achievement as an individual and as an organization. As leaders, we must foster environments that appreciate the opportunity to learn from failure. In the words of Henry Ford, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”