A motto to live by

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- I would like to take a moment to talk with you about a motto I live by in my personal and professional life - a motto that I will never perfect, but one that continues to perfect me.

As a military member or an individual associated with the military machine you are accustomed to a structured work environment dictated by rules, laws, policy letters and Air Force Instructions. I would venture to say the majority of us selected this path and prefer the structured environment. In fact, most of us would categorize ourselves, per the Jacob Goldsmith Theory, as "Type A personalities." We strive to organize our work and life - in short, we love control. Unfortunately, as you know, life can be unpredictable. We may feel that we have all the safeguards in place to prevent accidents, mistakes or errors, but, when human beings and Mother Nature are involved, "life happens" and unexpected events will occur. The challenge is "how" we react, what knowledge we gain and where we allow the event to steer us.

Deal with it: The action in this motto is easy. We have all received weeks, months or years of leadership training, supervisor training or specialty skill training to deal with life's imperfections. For example, when something on an aircraft breaks, maintainers fix it. That's what they are trained to do; they find a problem and fix it. In the office environment, we find imperfections with performance reports, decorations or other correspondence and we red ink it and send it back to be fixed. Sometimes we may even fix it ourselves to expedite the process and meet our suspense dates. Fixing problems for the first time is a satisfying feeling, however the most difficult part is the next step - Learning.

Learn from it: The first question to ask when attempting to learn from any event is "why?" This may seem easy and you may even tell yourself that you accomplish this step with every incident or problem you encounter. For example, a maintainer attempts to install a part that does not fit properly and when supervision asks "why" they find that the individual ordered the wrong part. A majority of us may have stopped there and chalk it up to human error and called the problem fixed. To truly learn from these events we must ask "why" multiple times. You may feel like a toddler, but asking "why" at least five times ensures we find the root cause and not just a symptom. Typically the individual's error was nothing more than a symptom readily available for identification and diagnosis. The root cause tends to be more systematic such as a lack of training or placement of unrealistic time constraints on members. If maintenance or production doesn't apply to you, let's look at the office environment.

How many times do you fix spelling or acronyms in your unit? We could all just chalk this up to an individual with bad spelling and writing capabilities or we could dig asking "why" multiple times. I venture you will find that no one has trained these individuals nor provided them a standard to meet or a writing guide so they can study on their own. The time spent identifying and solving the root cause prevents, or at least reduces future mistakes and saves everyone their valuable time. These are just examples, but you should be easily able to identify some similar items in your work place. Remember, without identifying the root cause and implementing the knowledge learned, our solutions will be fleeting and mistakes continuously repeated.

Move on: Humans are fallible and absolute control is impossible. Do not be a head-hunter or hold grudges. A blame game will never solve your problems. Deal with the situation, determine the appropriate course of action, including discipline if necessary, then remove any prejudicial emotions and set your sights on moving forward.

Remember, life happens, deal with it, learn from it and move on.