The power of ‘transformative humiliation’

Can a humbling experience help you become a better leader?

The power of ‘transformative humiliation’

Public humiliation is generally considered a bad thing, especially for senior executives. 

However, there can be positive outcomes to being humiliated, said Bill Treasurer, chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting.

“Humility is the positive outcome of humiliation, and sometimes the best thing that can happen to a leader, particularly a leader with an oversized ego, is to suffer through an embarrassing failure,” he told career coach Kathy Caprino at Forbes.

In his book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, Treasurer called it ‘transformative humiliation’ and defined it as the positive behavioural changes people undergo after a painful and embarrassing experience.

“It’s through the navigation of these seasoning events where leaders can gain wisdom, which ultimately make leaders stronger, more attuned to the needs of others, and more humble,” he said.

He listed down three ways leaders can bounce back from a humiliating experience.

‘Focus on the long game’
Think of the experience as a momentary speedbump in your long leadership career and focus more on where you see yourself going. “Take comfort in the knowledge that every leader worth his or her salt has experienced a big blunder or setback at some point,” he added.

Acknowledge your feelings
Pay close attention to how you feel after the experience. Were you more resentful than embarrassed? More afraid than ashamed? “Then ask yourself, ‘What lesson is this feeling trying to teach me?’” he said.

Use the feelings you identify as a benchmark to gauge your progress as you start taking note of the lessons you have learned, he said.

‘Be your own project’
Apply the very things you would do for a business project to make yourself better. “Think about what it takes to lead a great project. You identify the desired outcomes, you draft a timeline and set critical milestones, you marshal the resources needed to make the project successful, and you identify and track key metrics,” he said.

But above all this, Treasurer said you have to give yourself time to bounce back. This is especially true, he said, if the setback happened early in your leadership career. Once you become more attuned to your role, recovery won’t be quite so challenging.

“Once you become more familiar with the experience – and recognise its transitory and potentially transformative nature – you’ll get through it quicker. That said, bouncing back quick is less important than getting deep, thorough, and enduring lessons,” he said.


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