What I Wish I Had Known (Part 1): The Knockdown Principle
Have you ever been intentionally hurt by someone you were trying to help, and you could not understand why? Perhaps there is nothing more painful than to be intentionally hurt by someone you are trying to serve, honor, or love.
There is something that I have witnessed and learned (the hard way of course) about leadership and relationships. I call it “The Knockdown Principle” and I so wished someone would have told me about it.
It goes like this: “Some people will not follow you if they have never seen you fail yet. They only will follow you after they have seen you fail (i.e., get knocked down) and then get back up.” We see it in athletics where a boxer or quarterback inspires a team most often when he picks himself back up after a vicious knockdown.
This principle is so well followed that some people will knock you down themselves (figuratively, of course) or stand by idle while you get knocked down by someone else. People so desperately want to know if you can take a hit that they will often be the ones who deliver the punch.
The only thing worse than being knocked down, is being knocked down by someone who is supposed to be in your corner. We wonder what we did to cause a person to act so aggressively or stand by while we were being attacked.
Why do those we love and lead allow us to get knocked down? I think it involves a couple of reasons.
In some organizations, “it is part of the process.”
It is not an uncommon principle. Athletic teams, military branches, competitive universities, and other organizations that have “initiation” periods that are often referred to as “Hell Week” or something similar. They make this time as demanding as possible to determine your commitment to them. They want to know if they really trust you or will you walk out on your commitment when things get difficult. Even the people who recruited and invited you often will be part of the painful process.
Sometimes, it is in response to pain from the past.
When you are asked to lead people that have been hurt in the past, they are often going to intentionally hurt you despite your most sincere efforts. I THINK this is for three main reasons.
- They have been hurt before. Therefore, the safest thing to do is create a preemptive strike. If they can hurt you, before you hurt them, they think they will not feel the sting of disappointment again.
- Because they have been abandoned before, they want to know if you will abandon them also. They will not get close to you unless they can trust you-and they cannot trust you until they have seen you get up after getting knocked down. Therefore, they often will knock you down to see if you will get back up or get out.
- Perhaps related to #1 and #2, these individuals have a self-fulfilling prophecy that you, like everyone else, will inevitably walk out on them. Therefore, they take as much as time, energy, and resources as they can from you and often inflict as much harm on you as possible, because they know you will leave. When you have finally had enough of their mistreatment and leave, they indicate that is what they knew that you were going to do all along. They blame you for leaving but are not able to see that their actions led to your departure.
It is never fun being knocked out, especially by those you have been called to love and serve. So how do you prepare for this? Let me submit to you to take a boxing approach.
- Be aware the knockdown attempt is coming. Boxers insist on securing a predetermined time, location, officiating and set of rules. When they enter the ring and the bell sounds, they know to guard themselves and be alert. However, the best fighter can be leveled by a “sucker punch” which is universally considered cowardly. I wish I could tell you that people always fight fair. They don’t. So be prepared for the unexpected punch.
- Get some people in your corner. You cannot fight alone. You need someone to encourage you, someone to refresh you, someone to bandage you when you are wounded, and someone who loves you enough to stop the fight when it has gone too far. You need people in your life that will not let you fight alone.
- Get back up. Even if a fighter wins every round, he still must finish every round. Imagine a fighter has won every round going into the final round, he doesn’t need to punch any more, he just needs to weather the storm and get back up if he gets knocked down.
Nearly every community, team and relationship involves moments when those who are the most committed find themselves unfairly on the mat. Don’t take it, let it take you by surprise, don’t fight alone, don’t and don’t stay down.
The people you love and serve are desperately hoping you get back up, even if they put you on the mat.