Tony Robbins (above in a screenshot from his site) got into hot water last month for his comments about the #MeToo Movement, victimhood, and women being addicted to safety and significance.
Now it's all over social media via a NowThis video and even made it to the New York Times. Robbins has apologized and explained. And explained and apologized. But what's missing from his apology is awareness of where he went wrong. The clue was in the story he told to make his point which revealed culturally patterned unconscious choices on his part that probably keep him, and his wallet, safe in a significant-feeling little bubble. Oh dear.
So where did Tony Robbins go wrong?
- Was it because he said victimhood was about being addicted to getting needs like safety and significance met? No. Victimhood is a dangerous place to get stuck, but #MeToo isn't about victimhood. What I mean is owning that you've been victimized is empowering, but it can and does keep you painfully stuck if you over-identify with it or try to stay there. He's not wrong about that, but talking about victimhood within the context of #MeToo was dumb.
- Was it because he said that people can get addicted to their needs? Robbins' Six Human Needs are at the center of his philosophy. They're based loosely on Abraham Maslow's brilliant Needs Theory. We use a variation of Needs Theory at School of Coaching Mastery. It's powerful and chasing needs does look a lot like addiction, but the mechanism is different. #MeToo isn't about addiction.
- Was it because Tony Robbins is always the biggest alpha male in any room? Probably. He's 6'7", powerfully built, has a ridiculously deep voice, and is rich and famous, so it's unsurprising he has no idea what it's like to be physically intimidated by big powerful men. When the video shows Nanine McCool, the tiny but courageous woman who challenges his characterization of #MeToo, being backed up by Robbins without her permission, while his big hulking body advances with that big friendly puppy dog smile on his face, he looks like every creepy guy who's backed a woman into a difficult situation while she tries awkwardly to smile and/or reason her way out of it. Massive fail. And I know the tool he was trying to demonstrate, that when we're pushed, we instinctively push back, but usually it works better to cooperate. Except when you're about to be raped. (My favorite rape story - if there such a thing - is about a woman who cooperated until the man had his pants off, then she kicked him in the groin so hard she flipped him over her head and she ran away screaming, so maybe Robbins has a point.)
- Was it the story he used for proof of his point about the famous and powerful male client who was too stressed to hire a qualified beautiful woman? YES. Are you kidding me? The guy hired a less-qualified man because the woman was so attractive she posed "a risk". I'm no ACLU attorney, but I'm pretty sure that's a civil rights violation. Does Robbins acknowledge that? Nope. He adds for emphasis that he's heard dozens of stories like that as if that proves #MeToo is hurting both women and men. The man in the story should be removed from his position and replaced by someone more qualified who can control their own bad behavior instead of making it somebody else's problem. Robbins' unconscious cultural pattern stopped him from questioning whether his famous and powerful male clients were being victimized by a trending movement or whether it was time for them to grow and change.
- [UPDATE: 5-24-19] As of this writing, Tony Robbins has been accused of sexual harassment and/or abuse by nine women. That makes his ignorant comments and public bullying of women, under the guise of teaching them some higher wisdom that he thinks he possesses, duplicitous without an equally public disclosure, as in, "Full disclosure, I'm currently being sued for sexual harassment.", self-serving in the sense that he is exonerating himself without even admitting he has multiple accusers, and at the very least, fatally biased behavior. An honest coach will admit their biases. Without that admission, they lose all credibility with the people they serve. This also brings to question who the "client" is in the above story about the powerful man who won't hire a beautiful woman because she would be too tempting and therefore would pose a "risk". At least one of Robbins' accusers fits that description.
- As a result of the above development, I've changed my conclusion about the blog post, "Why Tony Robbins Can't Pass ICF Coach Certification", which has been read by over 100,000 people. I formerly concluded that I would certify him (meaning my school would), but his self-serving comments, lack of full disclosure, and unaddressed bias violates every code of ethics I've seen in the coaching profession (ICF, IAC, CCE), including ours. He has massive skill, but lacks integrity. That's unfortunate because he influences thousands.
Maybe he should ask more and tell less like most good coaches.
During the 2016 election cycle, a colleague of mine (a woman) who is masterful in the theory of Spiral Dynamics, predicted that Donald Trump (another famous and powerful man who gets himself in trouble around women) would be a catalyst that will propel the world into a new age. I totally agree. Trump is a backlash, or throwback, depending on your point of view, of a way of being that is still clinging to power, but is damaging too much of the world too survive. Robbins coaches those titans. Maybe he should coach them to deal with the world that exists today, rather then the one they wish existed.
Or is Robbins too addicted to safety and significance to take that risk?
I hope not, because the future itself is deeply at risk and a man like Robbins, who has devoted himself to personal development, could make a huge difference. It's not too late for for him to grow and change.
Mr. Robbins, STEP UP OR STEP DOWN.
Then again, maybe famous and powerful titans should be coached by women who can already see the future.
Don't make big stupid mistakes. Get a coach with integrity who asks more than tells: