Falling and Rising

Did you ever have the great pleasure of observing a baby learning to walk? Though she falls many times, she rises, going right back, trying, striving over and over until, on staggering legs, she takes that first step. Whoever has witnessed a baby's triumph knows the joy of that moment.

Learning to walk, you might say, is the first task we undertake. Our first job. It is filled with set-backs as the performer tries and falls, over and over.

For me, this human process, one that happens the world over every day in every land, is a paradigm of the meaning of work in our lives. What if we applied this paradigm to organizations? Would workplaces become more human?

Throughout our lives, we strive toward deeply felt aspirations, ones that we instinctively know in our bones. We fall, many times, but after every fall, we rise. We rise and continue to strive. Until we make it.

But there is one more vital component in this process: loving support. In the baby example, the parent watches closely. Knowing that falling is part of the process, the parent intervenes if necessary to prevent accidents and injuries. The parent exudes positive vibes and rejoices in incremental progress, and proudly tells the world the good news when the first step is taken.

With such loving support, the person never loses heart when she falls, never feels badly about herself, because the feedback she receives is always encouraging, never punishing.

Imagine applying this approach to the job of supervisor. Imagine if the job were to watch, support, praise, and love the performer. Like a parent, the supervisor knows that the falling and rising are natural, expected. That work involves learning and that growth can happen in the right kind of environment.

What other elements can be gleaned from this? Effective supervisors, like effective parents, do a few other basic things very well, including;

Set Expectations: "You can do it" is one of the earliest phrases of encouragement that we hear. In organizations, there are many expectations that must be met each day. And they can be met, and even exceeded, in a "You can do it" culture.

Teach: "Let me show you" and "Try it like this" are some of the earliest phrases of instruction that we hear. In organizations, there are coachable moments happening every day where attentive instructors can step in and shape performance.

Engage: "What are your thoughts?" and "How would you handle this?" are examples of ways that we invite engagement, facilitating full participation in the purpose of the organization.

Pull Up: Sometimes people stray, drop the ball, and let others down. When that happens, we often feel angry with them. But who among us can "cast the first stone?" If we are honest, we have all been there. In the workplace we are imagining, the response to someone who falls short of our expectations is to pull them up. To offer help. To let them know they have value. And to give them another chance.

Yes, this vision of the workplace is markedly different from what's out there. But, you may wonder, are there any organizations like this?

I recently had the opportunity to consult to an organization in Newark, NJ, that, for forty years, has been striving to operate with just such a culture. Are they perfect? They know they have much to do to match their stated values. That's why they asked me to visit. But their values are vitally important to them. It's who they are as an entity. So they have chosen to face themselves head on and work at improving each day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Falling and rising. It's the human condition. It's life. Let's learn from it. And use the wisdom in our workplaces.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on October 24. For more information about culture, supervision, coaching, and developing others, invite Terry to speak at your organization.

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