How You Can Avoid a 'Failure to Execute'

A soldier climbs across a rope bridge.
A soldier climbs across a rope bridge during the Tropic Lightning Week Best Squad competition at the 25th Infantry Division Lightning Academy, Wahiawa, Hawaii, Oct. 28, 2019. (Pfc. Lawrence Broadnax/U.S. Army photo)

"Failure to execute" is a phrase commonly used by people in the government, especially in the military world. It simply means you failed a mission or task, did not complete an event or did not start a project. A failure to execute is broad in its scope and focused on the outcome of performance. Simply put, did you succeed?

The causes of failing to execute are wide and ranging from personal apathy to an honest mistake. Here are some ways to avoid failure to perform any task at a recommended level of performance:

Attacking the task of the future: If you know that your future includes boot camp or special-ops selection, you will need to start several months in advance in order to be successful. Realizing your current weaknesses and setting yourself on a path to turn those weaknesses into a strength is the answer to long-term goals.

It is not uncommon for people either to think that boot camp will get them into shape or wait for the last 2-3 weeks to start a training program. This preparation can be used in business or other military tasks, such as presentations or preparing for deployments.

It can take several weeks or months to prepare yourself and your unit properly for future endeavors. Make sure you have a calendar and long-term, midterm and daily goals listed as your timeline and start attacking them ASAP.

Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS): It is not quite ADD/ADHD, but if you have SOS, you may be distracted easily by many things in life. It may be relationships, a busy schedule or a quick way to make money. Or maybe it's just easy for you to lose focus on a long-term goal.

Regardless, don't let the squirrel running by distract you from the task at hand. This is where your daily goals must have a daily timeline. You should have a checklist written down and carried with you through the day so you can reference as each task gets completed that day.

For instance: 6 a.m. -- work out. 8 a.m. -- breakfast/start work. Work goals a.m. Noon -- lunch. Check list during lunch. Afternoon tasks. (This list is best made yesterday.) Then attack the list one event at a time. Do not get sidetracked unless you have time in your schedule.

Do not be scared to try: Anything new is frightening but exciting at the same time. As you eventually get better at trying new things, the fear subsides, but the excitement never does. Whether this is leaving home for the first time, joining the military or learning a new job skill, take that first step and do it.

You will not regret trying, especially if you are prepared mentally and physically for the future task. You will find that your confidence to try new things will grow, the better prepared you are. Remember, this may take months to build the confidence to take that step. Preparedness will give you the confidence to set out on a new journey in life. Keep trying and doing.

No excuses: Excuses are bad habits that can be beaten, but it requires you to take responsibility for your actions as well as your inactions. One of my favorite lessons I learned at the Naval Academy on Day 1 was the five basic responses when asked a question:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. The correct answer
  4. I'll find out (if you did not know an answer)
  5. No excuse (if you did not do or know something you were supposed to)

(Of course, each of these began and ended with a sir or ma'am.)

These answers are still used by me today, thanks to having them beat into my head for four years. They are tools that help me not to make excuses, to keep learning when I do not know something and, believe it or not, help with staying on schedule with self-imposed deadlines. These five responses are a form of verbal and personal discipline.

Most importantly, stay motivated or disciplined -- "If you cannot stop thinking about it, don't stop working for it." (Michael Jordan). Stay hungry to keep growing in life, military or business. It is easy to start a project motivated, but there will be days where you are not motivated or lack energy. This is when discipline has to take over and make you get it done anyway.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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