The Importance of Learning How to Fall

I started my first day by getting thrown for a loop. Literally.

It was the mid 90’s, and I had just signed up for my first Aikido class in Japan. I didn’t yet speak Japanese, so the teacher knelt on the ground and motioned to me to grab his arm. Then he threw me to the ground. Over. And over. And over.

All I remember from the rest of that day is that I left with too many bruises to count, and a fierce determination to go back and do it again, because I knew that it would keep on hurting until I learned how to fall.

learning to fall

Well, I did keep going back, and I did learn how to fall. And the insights I gained from that experience have served me well as a leader for nearly twenty years – because even though the throws and bruises of leadership may not be physical, they still happen, and they still hurt.

So here are five reasons why learning how to fall is important for leaders:

  1. Learning how to fall is about gaining control, not losing it. When you’re too afraid of falling, you lose control of your emotions and your ability to react strategically every time you feel off balance. But becoming comfortable with falling involves staying calm and focused so that you retain control as you prepare for impact.
  2. Learning how to fall creates healthy appreciation for danger. When you’re not accustomed to falling, it’s easy to overestimate your ability to handle a hard fall. But when you’ve fallen enough times, you learn to gauge the speed and direction of your fall so that you can properly prepare for impact and avoid injury.
  3. Learning how to fall creates resilience and reveals opportunity. As leaders, it’s important that those who follow us can trust that we won’t fall apart when the going gets tough. When you get comfortable with falling, you also become more confident in your resilience – in your ability to get back up again, even when it hurts. And this resilience allows you to spend your energy looking for hidden opportunities instead of opportunities to hide.
  4. Learning how to fall instills compassion and invites respect. When you become accustomed to falling, you become more sensitive to the pain that others experience when they’re down. And in the long run, it’s your ability to show empathy and compassion toward others that will earn you the kind of respect that makes others want to follow you, even when you’re walking through a storm.
  5. Learning how to fall grows proven leaders who can mentor others. Learning how to fall gives you the seasoned, real-world wisdom that emerging leaders so desperately crave. And proven leaders who are willing speak a word of encouragement or guidance to emerging leaders when they need it most, are worth their weight in gold. These are the kind of when it’s needed are the best kind of mentors to have.

Great leaders, the ones we admire most, become great because they’re not afraid of falling – and they’re not afraid of helping others learn how to fall.


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Photo by Victor Erixon.

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