SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Have you ever found yourself muttering one of these remorseful words seen in the title? These words are frequently used in reference to an expression of regret ... the incalculable measure of "what could have been." Regret often surfaces when we realize that we have not lived up to our fullest potential, falling short of some level of expectations for any number of reasons.
How do we know whether we are striving to reach our fullest potential? Key phrases and tag-lines are commonly exhibited throughout the world around us in an attempt to help provide a measure of merit for this vague goal: maximum effort, do your best, optimal performance, or "leave it on the field." The vast majority of organizations in today's environment seek to encourage individuals to perform at a level commensurate with their fullest potential, because of the benefits that it ultimately provides the overall organization.
In the Air Force, our core value of "Excellence In All We Do" provides the standard against which we should measure our performance. The Little Blue Book (Jan. 1997), an oldie-but-a-goodie, labels this core value as a challenge "to develop a sustained passion for the continuous improvement and innovation that will propel the Air Force into a long-term, upward spiral of accomplishment and performance." In the simplest of terms, I interpret this as my duty to truly desire to deliver my very best possible effort on a daily basis to help achieve my unit's mission.
To achieve results in my daily routine that match my fullest potential, I must press beyond the surface of simply checking off tasks as complete. Understanding the "why" behind a process that drove the task, or being able to develop a more efficient process for accomplishing the same outcome are examples that reveal a desire to provide my very best. Truly committing oneself to being the best that you can be is the driver behind the difference between simply good individuals and those great individuals who distance themselves from the masses.
Leaders (at every level in the organization) have a responsibility to help establish an environment which helps personnel strive for excellence, and allows them to endeavor each day to reach their fullest potential. Additionally, leaders must discern and correctly gauge which subordinates are living up to their fullest potential. Those who are performing at an optimal level must be continually challenged to satisfy their internal drive for striving towards excellence. If subordinates are instead just going through the motions, leaders must determine how to motivate them so that they can contribute their fullest potential to the mission.
The question then centers on how to motivate those personnel who are not living up to their fullest potential. What is holding them back? Are there artificial limitations imposed on personnel within the unit? Or, do the leader and the subordinate have a different level of expectation or measure (thought process, which may not have been communicated) on what it means to deliver excellence? Having very clear expectations with your personnel is a critical factor for success. Ever heard of the Pygmalion effect? This is the idea that people will ultimately live up to the expectations levied on them. It also involves a person's introspective thoughts about themselves and their prospective potential.
The pursuit of excellence is not only what we should strive for at work, but also in our lives outside of work. As we go through the demands of our daily lives, nearly all of us wear many hats and have many titles in addition to those associated with our military or civilian positions. Whether they be student, mother, son, wife or daddy; these titles represent obligations that demand time and energy. The same measure of excellence applies in these situations as well.
Understand that we have the power to expand the realm of what is possible within the environment around us. However, if we don't continually expand our potential, then we become stagnant and find ourselves settling for status quo. We ultimately limit the amount of contributions that we can provide to any organization or to our family by not working to expand the boundaries of our potential. By surrounding ourselves with smarter people (mentors), learning new skills, reading books and gaining experience, we increase our abilities, and thereby drive an increase in our potential. When coupled with motivation and desire, an increased potential manifests itself in the quality and value of the work that we can perform, and the contributions that we are able to make every day of our lives.
Much like a runner breaks the tape at the finish line, choose a point in time in the future when you can look back on your achievements and determine whether you lived up to your potential. If you cannot do this, how can you improve for the next time? If you can, then how can you work to increase your potential with the expectation to improve upon your performance the next time? In either instance, self-evaluation from the stand-point of "Excellence In All We Do" is a great benchmark, and zero regret from living up to our fullest potential is the goal.