- On January 21, 2015
At first glance, the logic of throwing myself out of a perfectly good airplane in flight seems as far removed from business challenges as you can get.
Yet these three lessons from my days as a U.S. Army paratrooper at Fort Bragg, NC are as essential in business leadership as they are to a successful jump.
1. Learn how to fall. In the airborne world, it’s called a PLF–Parachute Landing Fall. It’s a technique that is drilled in over and over to make sure when we hit the ground, we can get up and walk away.
I learned how to fall correctly–balls of my feet, knees soft; twisting to roll onto the side of the calf, the side of the hip, the butt, the meaty part of the lat in the upper back. Head down, hands and forearms tucked in protecting the face.
On one training jump, I failed to follow lesson #2 well and wound up running smack dab into a cargo truck. As I drew closer and knew that a hard impact was inevitable, my training kicked in. I relaxed my mind and allowed myself to respond the way I had practiced so many times on the Swing Landing Trainer at Fort Benning. I landed loose and executed the most perfect PLF off the side of that truck. Shaken up, but walking away whole.
During the dot.com boom “fail fast” was almost a point of pride in the tech industry. Anticipating inevitable setbacks is healthy, but it is knowing how to fall down and then get back up to continue the mission that is most important. Many people fail and never get up again.
How can you land gracefully, to get back up and do it again? Do you have the inner reserve to evaluate—and perhaps adjust—your landing for the next time? Did you trust yourself enough to roll with it?
2. Point your belly button where you want to go. The chutes we used were not the very agile kind you see on the sky diving teams. We learned on the venerable T-10. Its only nod to maneuverability was a vent in the rear; if you were strong enough you could pull one taut riser in and turn the canopy in the general direction of where you’d like to land. Being 5’2″ and 120 pounds at the time, getting any response out of the T-10 was a full body effort. Until one ‘black hat’ instructor let me in on the secret–point your belly button where you want to go.
In other words, put your focus on it and your core into it. You’ll never get where you want to go unless you are fully committed.
When the overwhelm of business commitments makes me feel like I’m being blown about by a strong wind and struggling for control, I remember to (literally) point my belly button on what I need to focus on. I find that gets me mentally aligned to tackle what is most important to accomplish right now.
3. The first step is the hardest. When it came “putting your knees in the breeze” and taking the big step out the open door…well let’s just say it is literally a ‘leap of faith.’ I knew I had to take that inevitable step and I was bringing with me everything I knew to be right. Every time it was a moment of terror and trust and also of peace. I never regretted taking that step–the view was always spectacular.
This is a lesson I often recall when facing something difficult–repairing a misunderstanding with a colleague, admitting I made a mistake, speaking out about something that doesn’t seem right. The first step is the hardest. It is vulnerable. There is some mental terror to stepping out. Inevitably after I take the first step I find it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.