In his new book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, Bill Treasurer doesn’t mince words. Leadership is hard, and sooner or later every leader faces a situation that is literally a kick in the behind. Throughout the book, he drives home one point: If you want to become a better leader, you have to learn from those situations – you have to learn from your mistakes.
getAbstract had the opportunity to sit down with Bill and discuss his new book.
getAbstract: The moment we read the title of your new book, we were intrigued. Why did you call it A Leadership Kick in the Ass?
Bill: Even before I wrote Leaders Open Doors, I pitched an idea to my publisher of a book called Leadership is Freaking Hard. And it resonated. There are a lot of books that give you the idea that leadership is all this flowery attractive stuff, but if we get real about leadership, it’s freaking hard. As we were talking about that title, we thought it was too playful, and so we changed it to A Leadership Slap in the Face. Leadership is often a wake-up call; leaders go through startling experiences that are humbling – you fail, you mess up, you have a giant misstep. Those events are critical to the formation of you as a leader. They give you the seasoning, experience and wisdom you need.
As we were shaping the book, we shared experiences and we’d often say, “You know, I was facing this situation and I’ll tell you it was a real kick in the ass.” After a while we thought, “Why don’t we just call it what it is, A Leadership Kick in the Ass.”
I did get permission from my 80-year-old mother. [Laughs] I said, “Mom, we’re thinking about calling the book A Leadership Kick in the Ass, what do you think?” And being a New Yorker she said, “You know, Bill, ass isn’t really much of a swearword. You even hear it in PG movies.” So, we thought it was edgy enough to get attention but tame enough that readers will know our aim isn’t to offend them in any way.
getAbstract: It will certainly get attention! [Laughter] Can you give us some examples of those humbling experiences?
Bill: Sure. First, I’ll give you a world-stage example that I think we can all connect with. Steve Jobs, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the modern age, if not the single greatest entrepreneur of the modern age, transformed six industries. He started a company with another person, Steve Wozniak. He built it into a multibillion-dollar respected enterprise, and he brought in a CEO. Within a year, that CEO fired him. Imagine you get fired from the company that you founded, from the CEO that you hired. It was a humiliating event, but it set him on the path to found his next company, NeXT. It got him involved with Pixar. And he did a lot of soul searching. It caused him to be very exact about what he wanted. When he came back to Apple, he said that it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Let me give you another example a bit closer to home. Getting fired is an example. An executive that I work for was put in charge of a multimillion-dollar project for his company in a market the company hadn’t been in before. It was a terrific opportunity. Within a year and a half, that project was going south. He lost the company millions of dollars. By many measures, he could have been fired, but the senior executive above him wisely said, “Fire you? Are you kidding? Think of all the seasoning you just got as a leader.”
When the next multimillion-dollar project came around, they gave it to him. He had gotten burned in that earlier experience, and he’d licked his wounds. He got humiliated, but he learned from it. Now he’s thriving.
getAbstract: So, going through that humiliation actually helped him.
Bill: Let me put it like this: I think we’d all agree that humility is important to leadership. We want leaders who don’t lose sight of their roots, whose egos aren’t so large that they start to forget about us and make it all about them. Leadership is about the people you’re leading. And humility is critical. It’s through those humiliating events that you get humble. You have to learn from missteps, mistakes and failures instead of doubling down on your conviction that you’re right. Leaders don’t necessarily have that natural humility; they learn it along the way. Humility makes you a more attractive and effective leader.
getAbstract: What is the first thing you’d say to someone who’s questioning his or her own leadership?
Bill: Well, the first thing I would say is, “Welcome to the club”. [Laughter]
Clint Hurdle, the coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates, wrote the forward to the book. He said that there’re two kinds of leaders, those who have been humbled and those who are about to be. It’s inevitable that you, as a leader, are going to go through harsh moments. When that happens, you’re going to need to lick your wounds. You’re going to need to sulk. You’re going to need to feel like a baby and blame other people for a little bit. You’re going to be convinced that it wasn’t you. But if you let yourself get to the end of that experience and start taking accountability for your own behavior and recognize that you contributed to that kick in the behind, then you’re ready to learn. You can start to figure out where your ego got involved in the situation.
That’s when you make what I would call a holy shift. Holy shift! You start to recognize that it’s not about you; it’s about your people. Are you spending enough time developing your people? Are there some competencies that you lack that you need to shore up? Are you speaking in a way that dignifies people and encourages people, or are you demeaning to people? Where did your leadership behavior come from? Are you merely an echo of one of your over-dominant parents? How do you use or misuse your temper?
After you do these evaluative things you’ll come out of it a more tempered, more grounded, wiser, more thoughtful, more generous and ultimately more effective leader.
getAbstract: Will this book help leaders through that process?
Bill: It will help them recognize the signs that they might be due for a butt kick so that they can hopefully prevent it through their own behavior. On the other hand, if they’re going through a butt kick, it will give them the tools so that, like Steve Jobs, they can look back at it a year or two afterward and say, “You know what, that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because look at the leader I am today.” It can be used as prevention or treatment.
getAbstract: Any last comments about the book?
Bill: This is a book about humility. Some people may think that the title of the book is brash, but ultimately, it’s about leading at the point of goodness, and that point of goodness is when you’re operating out of a strong sense of confidence balanced by an equally-strong sense of humility.
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