Dear Travis, You’re an Asshole. Welcome to the Club!
By now you’ve probably seen or heard of the video of Uber founder Travis Kalanick (Travis Kalanick) going to town on one of his company’s drivers. He’s issued an apology and that’s a great start. But you know what? I’m excited for Travis. He was just presented with undeniable evidence that he’s an asshole. He was forced to admit as much to the world saying he needs to “grow up.” Travis is facing a whole new world of leadership power from this moment forward if he truly embraces the fact that he’s an asshole and learns and grows from it.
I remember the day I realized I was an asshole. In retrospect, it was a powerful turning point in my career and led to some great years and even to where I am at today. Oh, by the way, I’m still an asshole. It turns out that realizing you’re an asshole doesn’t mean you stop being one. But something really great, beautiful, and powerful happens out of the insight if you stop pretending to be cool when you’re actually an asshole. I’ve been an ass for years but the day I realized it, something more became possible.
In 2001 I was a 37 year old CEO of two software companies, married, and raising two young kids of 4 and 2. We were struggling and headed for trouble in the economic downturn that was coming post 9/11. Though I’d had some previous success in telecom, tech, and broadcasting, I didn’t know how to handle my current problems. And, I couldn’t figure out how to cooperate and collaborate with my wife..
So I hired a coach and started to work on my situation.
I ended up working on myself.
In a group coaching session, I listened as another woman talked about her problems with her dad. I was fascinated as I listened. It all sounded familiar to me. I also had kids and I loved them dearly, but I could see how they might misinterpret something I did or said, and then carry that into their lives. The coach asked us who in our lives we kept at a distance. Who might we have unfinished business with? It was my mom.
I had spent years keeping my distance and suppressing my anger towards her. My mom, the woman who bore me, raised me and loved me as best she could. I wouldn’t talk to her if I could help it, and rarely visited. I just acted polite. If you asked about her, I would have told you she had problems and I was doing my best with her. But, I kept my sweet mom at a distance. I was a covert asshole to her.
I had been acting this way at least since my parents divorced when I was 15, but probably longer. I blamed her for the problems in our family and for the split. I spent more than 20 years keeping my distance from and being angry at mom. But, in that moment, in that coaching session I saw the asshole I’d been. It struck me profoundly and instantly. I suddenly saw how much I loved and missed my mom and I had to call her and apologize.
I think Travis just had a moment like that when he saw the ugly video of himself with one of his drivers–one of the countless people that have made him a bazillionaire and a transformational force in transportation all around the world. Travis treated one of the people that help to make him a success with little care or concern. Travis just got to see what an asshole he is.
In group coaching we often use something called the Johari Window(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window) to see things about ourselves that are hard to see. In opening up and courageously sharing ourselves with others, we all see more about ourselves. Through self-reflection, courage, and humility we see the things we try so hard to hide, even from ourselves. And we begin to grow and develop.
On that day of my realization, I called my mom and apologized for keeping my distance, for withholding my love, for saying bad things about her for 20 years. I asked her for forgiveness and a new beginning. Of course she said yes. She’s my mom and she loves me. She got on a train and came out to see me the next week. The distance between us was gone and the love restored.
Pretty soon I started to notice what an asshole I was with most of the women, as well as many others in my life — bosses, co-workers, and employees. I began to see how arrogant, dominant, cold and aloof I can be. I started cleaning those relationships up. I started working on myself. I became very aware of my shortcomings and acknowledged them all.
I would go on to work with my wife for the next ten years and run a business almost entirely in the world of women — fashion jewelry. I also began to develop as a coach and started coaching entrepreneurs and new leaders.
I’m still an asshole today! I catch myself all the time but I no longer try to pretend I’m not an asshole. I just apologize quickly when it happens. I’m not limited or trapped in being an unaware asshole, and that makes something far more powerful possible. I don’t have to “act” like I’m not an asshole, I can just acknowledge it when I sometimes am, apologize quickly, and move on.
At some point or another we all are assholes. The only problem is when we try to hide it, deny it, or suppress it. That perpetuates the nastiness and leaves little room for greatness. The day I realized I was an ass was the day something great began to emerge. Congratulations Travis, a whole new world is open to you now.