Getting your a**e kicked – the dark side of leadership

March 15, 2016

Within the first 18 months of setting up our business, we had an article published in The Age newspaper. It made massive waves, and our phones and inboxes began to overflow with great feedback.

The very next day, however, a vicious attack on the article from another consultant appeared in The Age, while online a ‘storytelling expert’ went ballistic with personal criticism that just kept snowballing. It was traumatic and humiliating. At the moment of our lowest ebb, the phone rang. It was a CEO we had recently worked with. He had never personally rung us before, but did now to say, ‘First of all well done for standing up for what you believe in.’ Then he added, ‘Every time you stick your neck out, there will always be someone who will try to kick it in.’ The CEO was empathetic, reminding us what the stakes are when you enter the arena.

That moment was instrumental in helping us recover and move forward, rather than flounder in self-doubt. From then on we continued to write, publish and grow – whereas one of our critics disappeared (and no, I had nothing to do with it!) and the other has earned a vitriolic reputation.

I was recently reminded of this experience at a presentation by Brené Brown. Her 2010 TED Talk shot her to international stardom, practically overnight. It was an unexpected and meteoric rise, but well-deserved .

Brené said that immediately both her husband and her therapist banned her from looking at the comments posted online about her talk. So what did she do? She checked them straightaway. People had posted things like ‘Less research more Botox’ and ‘Lose 15 pounds and we will be ready to listen to you.’ When Brené shared some of these comments, the audience literally gasped. She went on to explain, ‘I realized then that when you go into the arena – whatever that is for you – in sport, at work, in life, there is only one guarantee: that you will get your arse kicked.

She added that when picking people up after an arse-kicking, the best thing to say is along the lines of: ‘That totally sucked’ – don’t deny their experience – ‘but remember…’ and remind them that what they did was both brave and important. This is what the CEO did for us that day.

At work, leadership is one of the most important arenas people enter. We seldom talk about the dark side of leadership though, and the toll it exacts – those times when leaders stand up for something and metaphorically get their head knocked in by the board, shareholders, or their peers.

Whether you are a leader or not, prepare yourself for this. It is the arena’s only guarantee. And every time you see someone getting their arse kicked, please reach out and help them back up. Next time, that could be you.

Have you had any similar experiences? What have you found helpful in making it through, and getting back up again? Please comment I love hearing from you.

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