We All Fall Down

We All Fall Down

By: Mary Shippy

Why do we struggle so much with failure?  As a culture?  As a people?  Cause we all eventually fall down.

I remember many years ago after completing an education project in Central Africa, I was sitting with a group of leaders at a safari resort on the Nile River talking about leadership.  All of us shared stories of leaders who had disappointed us, and a few of us were even brave enough to talk about some of their own failures.  In that group, gathered around the table, I heard one of the leaders say that they personally never trust a leader who doesn’t walk with a limp.

Over the years, I have thought about the limping leaders I know.  I have also thought about the causes of my own limps in leadership.  How is it that our limps produce mostly shame, disconnection, fear and comparison when they are about us?  When they are about someone else we see them as something we admire, are attracted to, and ignites our own desire to follow.  Brené Brown has taught me a lot about these emotions in her research on shame.  Her years of research tell us that “shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. Shame is this insidious belief that we are bad, defective – this the fear that we are not enough.”

Every person who risks being a leader will fall down. Leadership is not about if you fall, rather it is about when you fall.   As Brené Brown says “there is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” Leadership is about stepping into the arena of your life.  This journey of a true leader is best captured in a speech by Theodore Roosevelt and is the open quote in Brené’s book titled “Daring Greatly”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is ACTUALLY IN THE ARENA (my emphasis), whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

When I think of my limping leaders and of my own personal limps received as a result of stepping out into the arena of leadership, what I see is courage and wisdom born in the field of a life. Today we talk about this as resilience or grit. This resilience/grit character of leaders is born out of falling down and failure.  One of the great things about developing resilience is that with practice it can be built into a strong muscle that will serve you throughout life.  It is a muscle that can be developed whether you are a new emerging leader or a well-seasoned leader.  I believe that there are several components to developing resilience/grit:

  • The ability to seek out and consider new ideas – a growth mindset.
  • The ability to respond openly to adversity – to see it as a challenge and opportunity, not just a threat.
  • To trust your compass – your true north and chose courage over comfort.
  • Tenacity – the ability to commit to and stick with a choice.
  • Adaptability as the counter weight to stubbornness, it is the ability to roll with what is happening and be in it for the long hall.
  • Habits that keep you solid and nurture your whole person, like exercise, regular vacations (even mini ones- like an evening completely off the grid), time with your supportive friends, family time, etc.

To all the courageous, muscle-building, resilient limping leaders – remember, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man or woman who points out how the strong man or woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man or woman who is ACTUALLY IN THE ARENA”

Align Leadership invites you to join us and other women in the arena as we study the work of Brené Brown—collaborating, co-creating, and learning strategies for living wholeheartedly, daring greatly, and rising strong in our work and in our everyday lives. The 2-day workshops take place in May, July, and September. View schedule and curriculum >>