Help, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t…..Nevermind


One of the attributes I have noticed in nearly every great leader that I’ve worked with is that they know how to get back up after they fall. I don’t think they fall any less than the rest of us, or any less hard. But they don’t lay there very long.

I actually believe that leaders make more mistakes than most people, they just recover faster. Leaders are constantly pushing limits, challenging themselves, trying new things and often without the benefit of watching someone else do it. They are living in those places where mistakes are part of every day. It’s what they do immediately after they screw up that separates them from others.

They also have the potential for some really bad days. Leaders often take on more accountability and responsibility than others. They create a situation where their days have much more opportunity for something to go wrong and be their fault, or at least their responsibility to fix. They deal with more moving parts than most and that means things can go awry quickly and often. Let’s face it, if you stay under the covers all day you don’t put yourself in harm’s way. But leaders are out in the mix, where life is unpredictable.

What they do that enables them to survive and grow in a mistake ridden, high responsibility world, is they learn how to get back up, fast, when they fall. I’ve noticed three things that leaders do to make sure that while they might have a bad day today, they won’t have a second one tomorrow.

They have a “get back up” mechanism.

Whenever leaders get off track they have a reliable method of getting back on. For some its exercise, for others its reading or finding a quiet spot to think. Some need to go do some volunteer work or get out of their office and engage with a group of others. I even knew one person who cooked when they needed to get re-energized. It doesn’t have to be a weeklong retreat either, in fact, if it takes us a week to get back up every time we fall then we better not fall very often. It’s usually something simple and might only take an hour or two. The key is that they recognize that they are in the ditch and they are determined not to stay there very long so they immediately change their environment and do something that shakes them out of their current pattern. And they have learned what activities do that best for them.

They refocus on the goal.

This is the biggest reason that great leaders, and those who aspire to become great at anything have a goal, and exactly why the goal has to be clear, compelling and something they are willing to work hard for. Now is the time when they read the narrative that they’ve written describing every detail of what they want to achieve and how it feels to accomplish it. Having a goal helps you build the path to something, it also let’s you know when you’re off that path and serves as a motivator to get back on it. If you pull out a goal you have written and it doesn’t inspire you to get back up, you may not be working toward something you really want. It may take re-reading it several times, especially if you are deeply immersed in your bad day, but ultimately it should be what motivates you to not have a second bad day tomorrow.

They surround themselves with people who push.

This may be the most difficult of the three. When we’re having the inevitable bad day it’s natural to want people around who will comfort us. But do we really want to become comfortable with having bad days? Leaders look for people who will help them get back on their feet, fast. That’s rarely comfortable and in the moment, it’s easy to wish they would just let us lie there. But after they are standing back up and moving forward, leaders know that they needed the push and so they seek out those who are willing to do that for them. It’s why many leaders hire coaches to help them deal with the many challenges they face. They need someone who they know will tell them the truth, and push them when others around them might simply make staying down feel more comfortable.

Leaders fall a lot, just like the rest of us. But they get back up faster and they have built a reliable, repeatable set of tools to help them do that. It’s easy to think that leaders have a natural gift that allows them to be more successful. The reality is they simply work harder to make sure they use the same gifts we all have more often and more consistently. And that means knowing how to get back up, stand tall and move forward, every single time they fall.