The year was 2004. I was a new dad and was busy getting ready to move from San Diego to Guam with my wife and daughter, Heistheway, who was almost 2. There was a lot to do — pack our bags for the overseas flight and week-long visit to Saipan prior to ending up in Guam, get ready for the movers to come and pack up everything we owned, clean up our small house, and help Franicia who was pregnant with our second child, Pelaiah, prepare for a short stay at the Navy Lodge on NAS North Island while the movers would be at our house.
Heistheway was normally such a calm, well-behaved daughter but this day she was having a hard time having a good attitude and couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. Then we had the realization — she hadn’t eaten in a while (for a toddler) and was probably hungry and tired. I realized then that my life had drastically changed. In the past, I would skip meals or even skip sleeping if there was a big project that needed to be finished.
High School Football
I am blessed with wonderful parents. Their love for me and my brothers was obvious and so refreshing. They did a great job setting me up for success as a child. I can only remember a few times when I felt like I was setup for failure. As a high school student, I worked really hard to please my teachers and sports coaches (I’m guilty of being a people pleaser.)
I was pretty big and tall as a high schooler, and the football coaches were always trying to get me to come out and play football. I didn’t know much about football. Growing up, we didn’t watch much TV and had better things to do than sit around watching football. I played spring football every year starting at the end of 8th grade until I graduated, but I never actually played on the team during the season until my senior year.
I only weighed about 200 lbs, but I was pretty fast and pretty strong for my size and age (I could bench 315 when I was 17). My understanding of football plays, strategy, and the different positions left a lot to be desired, though. During practice, I would usually play offensive tackle and would sometimes play defensive end. There weren’t that many big guys on our team, so we used our speed, strength, and intellect to play. We could pull our tackles and guards, we ran sweeping plays, and had a couple trick plays up our sleeves.
My coaches assumed that I understood more than I did, though, and would get REALLY upset at me when I would make a mistake. I think, though, that my performance as a football player would’ve been better and more pleasing to my coaches if I could’ve been better educated in the concepts behind the plays we ran.
Indoctrination at Annapolis
After high school, I went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. During the first year, the freshmen, aka “plebes,” were intentionally setup for failure. This was intentional because most of the plebes have succeeded at everything they had tried up to that point. Recovering from failure is something they aren't necessarily used to doing. Recovering from a setback or failure even is a very important skill especially in the military. Giving up after failure could easily result in injury, death, or even loosing the fight on the battle field.
"Uniform Races” was a favorite way my cadre liked to use time whenever there was “down time” in our schedule. We’d be lined up along the wall, aka “bulkhead”, in the hallway outside of our rooms in one uniform when our cadre would yell, “You have 2 minutes to be in….” and would give us a completely different uniform. We weren’t allowed to have uniforms staged inside our closets, so whenever we had to change our uniforms, we’d have to start from scratch including putting on ribbons when applicable, our name tag, neckerchief, etc. 2 minutes isn’t enough time, but we’d try anyway. At the end of 2 minutes, we’d rush out trying to beat the time but would inevitably miss the mark. If, by some miracle, we were able to make it out before the time, our cadre would go inside our rooms to inspect. Of course, our rooms would fail.
Setting up new recruits, officer candidates, midshipmen, cadets, etc for failure is intentional, but failing isn’t fun. After a while, some people will just stop trying to succeed and accept the failure and will get hammered for this attitude or even kicked out — that’s not an attitude that is acceptable.
A Happy Worker
The lessons in failure must eventually end, and good leaders will do whatever they can to set their workers up for success. Some leaders, though, forget that a worker that feels like a failure is going to be unhappy. An unhappy worker is often an unproductive worker. Not only that, unhappiness and discontent in the workplace is contagious — not something you want to spread around your department!
From 2010 to 2011, I was in charge of the security boat detachment at MSRON-7, Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 7, in Guam. MSRON-7’s main mission was to provide security in the event of a conflict in the area. We trained for that mission, but it’s really not a very exciting mission. For the most part, we would practice setting up a FOB, forward-operating base, and would setup security there both land-side and water-borne security with our security boats.
The sailors there would train over and over but never actually were able to perform their mission. Training over and over can get pretty monotonous if you’re not really creative. Some supervisors would keep their guys at work until 4 or 5pm even if there wasn’t really anything for them to do.
It was my policy that my sailors know what is required for them each day. Once they achieved their goals and finished their job, they could leave. This was within reason, but at least my sailors knew that they wouldn’t have to stick around until the end of the day doing nothing. They actually ended up leaving around 4pm most days, but they would usually be happily working because they had a goal in mind. Another benefit of giving them that incentive was that I was happy because they were happy! It worked out for all involved!
Setup to Accomplish the Amazing
As a leader — whether as a parent or a boss in the workplace -- I must take seriously the responsibility to care for the needs of my children. I don’t want my children to fail. I want them to succeed as children as well as in life! I want them to be able to live out their greatest dreams and accomplish amazing things. Sometimes, though, I forget that I have the power to set them up for success. I either get tired, lazy, or just get busy and can forget my children’s needs.
6 Ways to Help Children (and Employees) Have Good Attitudes and Obey
We can setup our children for success and we should! Below are 6 simple ways to set them up for success:
- Make sure they have been fed. Have you heard the old adage, “an army travels on its stomach?” It’s true! It’s hard to have a good attitude and continue plugging away when you’re hungry.
- Make sure they’re well rested. In aviation, we have a concept called “crew day” and “crew rest.” These concepts are actually one of the main reasons why I wanted to be in Naval Aviation. If a pilot or aircrewman has less than 8 hours of crew rest or has a crew day longer than 12 hours, then they can’t perform anything involving flight duties (except in the tactical, wartime environment). We must be well-rested in order to think well.
- Keep them productive. We should help our children to love work and love being productive.
- Respond in love rather than react in impatience or exasperation when things go wrong.
- Treat them like you want to be treated. I’m quick to tell my children to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I need to do the same not only with strangers but also with my closest neighbors — my family.
- Give them hope. This is probably the most important step. When I was in college, I ran summer indoctrination for the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island during the summer of 2000. Several times a day, I would “PT” the midshipman-candidates. They never knew how long I was going to PT them, but I knew — I was going to PT until I was feeling tired. For all they knew, I was going to PT them for the rest of the day. After just a few seconds of doing each exercise, they would start having a hard time. If they only knew that I was going to go for just a few more seconds, they could’ve continued without difficulty. The unknown is what gave them difficulty! This was intentional on my part to teach them discipline. This was also a great object lesson to them too! We all saw how easy it is to stay motivated when we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
What do you to set up your children (or employees, students, sailors, etc.) for success? Have you ever had a point where you realized that you were failing in this area? What did you do to change?