It’s not often that you hear someone express gratitude for a kick in the ass. If you’re a leader just starting out, or someone who has made a career of leading others, you may be in need of a swift one. As you begin to heal from the sting, and your ego returns to its right size, you’ll be writing “thank you” notes to the ones who delivered it.
All leaders worth their salt will get a psychological kick in the rear end eventually. It is a critical and inevitable part of the leadership experience.
Why Do I Need a Kick?
At some point, every leader is confronted with the reality that his or her leadership is seriously and substantially flawed. In my book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, I stress that it is at this precise moment when a leader faces a choice: learn and grow or remain blindly loyal to ignorance. All leaders worth their salt will get a psychological kick in the rear end eventually. It is a critical and inevitable part of the leadership experience. Choosing to learn from it requires exploring the leader you’ve become and clarifying the leader you want to be. It also involves suffering through temporary embarrassment and insecurity. As the renowned psychologist, Carl Jung said, “There is no coming into consciousness without pain.”
Some leaders refuse to accept any culpability when they get kicked, choosing to double down on their conviction that their way of leading is “right,” regardless of how the people they’re leading respond to their leadership. They view the kick not as a learning experience to embrace, but as an insult to reject.
So Where’s the Gratitude?
How leaders deal with, or fail to deal with, butt-kick moments will make all the difference toward their future effectiveness, impact, and well-being as leaders. In fact, a good old fashion kick in the tail can be the turning point in one’s career — the moment at which a leader stops swimming against the tide of her limitations.
Ass-kick moments are important because they can make you set aside a false leadership identity so that a more genuine and grounded identity can emerge.
These stark and startling moments can rattle your confidence to the core, often provoking serious thoughts of rejoining the nonleader ranks or quitting altogether. But these moments can also be the starting point where you assess your strengths, clarify your values, and develop an authentic and true leadership voice and style.
Ass-kick moments are important because they can make you set aside a false leadership identity so that a more genuine and grounded identity can emerge. These events have the potential to inspire what I call transformative humiliation* and when that transformation happens, you’ll be more respectful of yourself and those around you. Thus, your leadership experiences preceding the kick are just a prelude to the real leadership story that begins afterward.
When you get kicked, you have the opportunity to wipe yourself off, straighten yourself out, and lead with integrity. It’s a second (or third) chance to hone your skills and gain experiential humility while on the job. If that doesn’t give you an overwhelming sense of gratitude, I suggest taking your kicked butt out the door and on to another profession. Because let’s be honest, you were never meant to be a leader, were you?
*Transformative humiliation refers to the positive behavioral change that results from experiences that are embarrassing, leveling, and painful. Properly navigated, such experiences can cause you to become more grounded, real, and humble, resulting in a leadership style and approach that are uniquely your own. Transformative humiliation is often the entry point for genuine humility and positive leadership change.