The Anatomy of a Butt Kick: Overcoming a Career Setback

In any given month, I have upwards of twenty one-on-one executive coaching sessions. It’s very common for those conversations to center on helping a coachee process a career setback. The setbacks are often painful, like a swift kick in the rear end. As painful as they often are, they can often bring about positive transformational changes for a leader. My book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, is written to help leaders work through those moments when they feel like the world is kicking their butts.

What is a butt-kick? All butt kicks, butt kickers, and butt-kick recipients are unique. Each situation is unique to everyone involved. That said, hiney-smacking events also share a few common elements. Let’s dissect the dreaded kick in the but and understand the anatomy.

Each kick has four stages:

Comfortable Oblivion

Prior to getting kicked, you are blind to your own behavior. Life is going swimmingly and you are blithely unaware of the impending insult. Oftentimes you are full of confidence. You can quickly marshal the facts that support the value you’re adding to the organization you serve. You view yourself as competent, aware, and deserving. In the case above, Pete walked into the CFO’s office oblivious to the kick he was set to receive.

Startling Sting

Ouch, that hurts! Butt kicks assault our comfort and, thus, are painful events. As a rule, the more oblivious you are prior to the kick, the more painful the kick will feel. A kick is painful, partly because of his degree of prekick obliviousness, and partly because getting fired is a kick with a serious windup. Most commonly, kicks provoke emotions of fear, anger, rejection, or depression. These emotions often result in defensiveness and self-righteousness— How dare they kick my ass this way!

Change Choice

After the sting starts to subside, you are left with a choice. Broadly defined, your choice comes down to accept or reject. We’ll explore this stage in more depth in a moment because it’s the most critical stage in the butt-kick process.

Humility or Arrogance

Depending on the decision you make in stage three, stage four will result in either deeper arrogance or genuine humility. If you double down on your conviction that your kick was an undeserved injustice, you’ll fortify your sense of righteousness. If you take the lumps the kick brings and make changes based on the information that it provides you, you’ll exit the butt-kick event with a view of yourself that is more grounded, sober, and humble.

As mentioned, the more oblivious you are before the butt kick, the harder it hits. Stage one determines the intensity of stage two.

Defensiveness is a lagging emotion. It is a reaction that is provoked when people feel threatened and afraid. Abrupt kicks jeopardize your sense of identity, your feelings of contentment, and your financial and psychological security. So your ego does what it’s supposed to do—it defends you. It’s easier, at first, for your ego to come to your defense than for you to accept that something about you needs to change. So the self-preservation part of your brain kicks in and starts to scan your memory catalog to find evidence that invalidates the hard-hitting feedback. How could this happen to me? I’ll show them how wrong they are! is a common refrain

Next time you feel a kick in the rear, pause to consider your response. Reflect on how you might have been better prepared. What strategies will you deploy to brace for future, inevitable challenges?

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

You Might Also Like…

Opportunity Focused Leadership

Opportunity Focused Leadership

Do you aim to be a problem-focused leader or an opportunity focused leader? Many work environments place a premium on leaders with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. However, that premium often places too much emphasis on being critical and dealing with...

What Every Leader Should Be Doing

What Every Leader Should Be Doing

Every leader needs a courage zone. When we talk about courageous leadership in our workshops, we talk about the comfort zone. We all have a comfort zone and that is the place where we feel confident and capable. That is also the zone where we are not pushed to learn...

Cultivate Growth

Cultivate Growth

As we bid farewell to winter and begin to see signs of spring all around us, my thoughts naturally turn to themes of growth and renewal. This season, I'm reminded of the immense potential that lies dormant within all of us. Like a bulb buried deep in the ground,...