I remember walking behind my five-year-old daughter who was attempting to negotiate a sidewalk on her roller skates. Under the best of circumstances she skates like a five year old. Under these particular circumstances, and on this uneven, downward pitched sidewalk, she spent more time falling and getting up than she did actually attempting to skate. At one point she looked back at me and asked if I would help her. In this context, her idea of help was for me to walk beside her, her holding on to me, and me propping her up. I resisted the urge to hold her up and make it physically impossible for her to tumble to the sidewalk. When she asked for my help, I started to say, “I’ll be here to catch you if you fall.” Something made me check my words and instead of promising to catch her I calmly told my daughter, “I will be here to help you up if you fall.”
The difference between “I will catch you if you fall” and “I will help you up if you fall” may seem small; however, when leading others, the difference is great. Telling someone that you will catch them if they fall sends the message that you will not allow them to fail. Now, on the outset this sounds appealing. The inability to fail is very attractive. However, in reality this mindset stifles growth, creativity, and initiative.
Telling my daughter that I would catch her if she fell is communicating that her not hitting the ground is more important than her learning to skate. I gave my daughter all of the tools she needed to learn to skate. She had roller skates, a helmet, a clear path, and a helping hand for when she fell. She was not set up for failure nor would I allow her to commit a catastrophic error. However, learning to skate was her adversity to overcome.
Letting someone know that you will help them up if they fall communicates a completely different message. By assuring someone that you will help them up when they fall you give them the space to take risks, try new things, fail, and to learn from the experience. Helping them up when they fall lets them know that you are here to support them on their journey, to help them learn, and, ultimately, to help them grow.