To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing – Elbert Hubbard
A story is told of Winston Churchill who exemplified integrity and respect in the face of opposition. During his last year in office, he attended an official ceremony. Several rows behind him two gentlemen began whispering. “That’s Winston Churchill.” “They say he is getting senile.” “They say he should step aside and leave the running of the nation to more dynamic and capable men.” When the ceremony was over, Churchill turned to the men and said, “Gentlemen, they also say he is deaf!”
As a leader you will have your critics. It comes with the territory. While many are quick to tell you to not to listen to your critics and to disregard them, I will tell you – not so fast. Not all criticism is fatal just as all praise is not flattering. You must look at the motive.
To be sure, there will be critics who for no other reason than jealousy will oppose you and try to stand in your way while you are achieving your goals and dreams. If their motives are to harm you and not to help you, then yes, you need to ignore them. They are not running your race and they will not be a part of your destiny. Don’t worry about them.
But once in a while a constructive critic comes along whose motives are right and if you are receptive you can benefit from them. Leaders are not above correction and there is always room for improvement. What can you learn from your constructive critics? Plenty. Here are three specific things that might be helpful.
How to develop a thick skin
The sooner you develop a thick skin the better. As a leader you are exposed to a higher than normal amount of criticism from all sides. The decision you make today may anger one group in your office, while a decision tomorrow will have the opposite effect.
It’s easy for people to criticize decision makers when they don’t have to live with the responsibility of the decision. But the criticisms can still sting nonetheless. Developing a thick skin as a leader is a necessity for your longevity. It’s a way of life for you as a leader so get used to it.
Why perceptions matter
Most people’s opinion of you as a leader is based in part on perceptions. Some people’s perceptions may be positive while for others it’s negative. Many factors can contribute to this viewpoint. A person with frequent interaction with you will see your leadership style one way, while a person with limited exposure will see it another. The question is: are you aware of the perceptions others have of you?
You want to give the perception that you are approachable, likable, competent, and that you have your people’s best interest at heart. And if you will allow them, your critics will let you know how you are doing. Though they may be few in number; keep your constructive critics close. In the end they will be more valuable to you than a room full of “yes people” ever will.
How you can improve
Leaders need constructive critics. They will give perspective that you may be lacking, insights you need to know, and will stand with you when times are tough. As a leader there is always room for improvement. You never stop learning. But how can you improve when you have blind spots that are not being brought to your attention?
Your growth and development as a leader is proportional to your desire and ability to learn. It’s a process that involves many components that are traditional in nature but also those that are very personal. It’s one thing to shrug off and dismiss a critic who has no interest in your success. But your best learning will occur when you ask for constructive critics who share in your success and will give you honest feedback.
As a leader it’s important to differentiate between the critics who oppose you out of their own insecurity, jealousy, or ulterior motives and those who are your constructive critics. It’s not too hard to figure out. One group will stab you in the back while the other group will have your back and support you. One group will stand with you through thick and thin, the other group will cut and run – you get the picture.
Your responsibility as a leader is to discern between the two and align yourself with the right people. Your success as a leader will occur when you are not too proud to listen to your constructive critics and smart enough to ignore the others.
What do you say?
© 2014 Doug Dickerson