Three Things Every Leader Needs To Know About Criticism


Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. – Winston Churchill

I came across a story about Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge who tried to surprise her husband by having his portrait painted. When it was finished, she hung it in the library of the White House. Later the same morning the President happened to walk into the library accompanied by a senator. They stared at the picture together in silence. Finally Coolidge commented quietly: “I think so, too.”

When you hear the word criticism what is the first thought that comes to your mind? Many take on a defensive posture as it relates to critics. We are quick to defend our words, actions, and decisions.

Often times, however, our growth in leadership does not always come via the praise or accolades of adoring followers. In fact, a lot of it comes during our dark times that are usually quite lonely.

Conventional wisdom says to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. What about critics? Should you keep them at a distance or keep them close? Here are three insights that hopefully will give you some perspective.

Every leader needs a constructive critic

As a leader you will have plenty of critics. Many of them will not be constructive. But when you are committed to your own personal growth and to the success and growth of your people then finding a colleague who can be your constructive critic should not be hard to find.

Your constructive critic is the one who can help you see all sides of an issue, help guide you in your decision making, and cares enough to call you out when needed.

You need constructive critics in your life and you should welcome them in. One constructive critic will be more valuable to you than a room full of “yes people” ever will.

Every leader needs to be accountable

The purpose of a constructive critic is not to make your life miserable but to keep you accountable. A leader should never ascend to the place either in position or in mentality that they are above criticism. We need trusted advisors near us to help us.

I know that many leaders take criticism personal and see those who would dare to criticize as less than loyal, out to cause harm, or advance their own agenda. As a result relationships are strained due to insecurities and people are looked upon with suspicion. It’s a fragmented culture that is hard to reverse.

But when you as a leader set the example for what accountability looks like it can be healthy for the whole organization and it can make a world of difference.

Every leader needs to set the example

John Maxwell said, “Effective leaders know that first you have to touch people’s hearts before you ask them for a hand.” This is a profoundly simple rule of leadership. It’s also, I believe, the springboard of constructive criticism.

As a leader you will give more constructive criticism than you will receive and it’s important to do it right. Constructive criticism will be better received and more effective when it’s born out of a good relationship.  If the only time you interact with a person you lead is to be the messenger of how to do something better or to point out something they have done wrong then it will build resentment.

Critics and criticism will be a constant on your leadership journey. Learning the keys to receive it and give it will make you a wiser and more effective leader.

What do you say?


©2015 Doug Dickerson






About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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