Leaders on the front line – taking criticism

As a leader you stand out from the crowd and, guess what, none of us are perfect.

When you are under the spotlight – even when the light is being shone by your own relatively small group – sometimes, you will receive criticism!

Some of it will be fair and some not.

If you learn to deal with it positively you will soon be able to stand back, see what is valid, and ignore the rest.

You will be able to use it to your advantage and that of your group!

There are characteristics that make us better and worse at dealing with criticism.

  • Mental Attitude  – Positive people don’t let criticism take a grip. Instead they look on the bright side, try to learn from it and then move on. When you are feeling negative, you can feel it deeply and begin to obsess about it. It can erode your morale and that of your group, so stay positive.
  • Courage – As Winston Churchill said “It takes courage to sit down and listen”. It will disarm your critics if you listen to them attentively and with openness. In those circumstances they are much more likely to give you a balanced view that could provide valuable feedback.
  • Hierarchy – Be prepared to listen and learn from criticism from any part of your organization and from customers and suppliers. It sometimes helps to regard it as free consultancy! You’ll be amazed how much respect you can gain from quite junior members of your team if you are prepared to listen and respond positively to their ideas including their criticisms. Disappointed customers respond well to being given a hearing and an apology for an honest mistake.
  • Emotional Intelligence – Being able to relate with positive emotion to your team is a key ingredient in inspiring them to success. That includes being able to recognise and acknowledge their emotions even when they are mad with you. Recognize it for what it is; empathise with it. Answer it positively and then move on. Have the grace to say sorry if, as a result of your action, someone on your team has found their work more difficult!

As for me, I have always been pretty thin skinned and found criticism quite challenging to deal with. But over the years, I’ve managed to train myself to take a far more balanced view. I would love to know what your experience has been and how you have dealt the criticism you have encountered.

Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her atwendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

2 Replies to “Leaders on the front line – taking criticism”

  1. For me the two biggest capacities/characteristics necessary to deal well with criticism are:

    1.) The capacity to self-soothe and chill our emotions and not flood emotionally (so-called “amygdala hijacking”). If we can’t do this, we will be forced to limit ourselves so much in life in so many ways! Fearing taking a hit emotionally and fearing the intensity of our own emotions, we will preemptively avoid and exclude soooo much of life! We will have to avoid anything that might be difficult . . . intimacy, love, our highest potentials, what’s best in us, real growth. And we will have to avoid any realistic mirroring of ourselves, anything that might show us who we actually are — which includes criticism. Because of our emotional thin-skinnedness we’ll always need to be handled delicately, be pandered to, have things softened and excessively sweetened before we even attempt to listen to them and digest them. We’ll have such a small auditory comfort zone.

    2.) The capacity to think critically and honestly and be truly aware of ourselves in a very objective way. If we can’t to this, we won’t be able to deal with criticism fairly. We’ll either buy into wholesale and get brainwashed (propaganda), or we reject it and dismiss it defensively and dishonestly and self-protectively. Thinking critically means we have to be able and willing to step outside ourselves, take our own eyes out of our own head, so to speak, and look at ourselves from a different vantage point — perhaps as God or as a very objective narrator would see us.

    M. Scott Peck talks a lot about stuff very similar to this in the section on “Discipline” in “The Road Less Traveled” where he talks about life maps — “Dedication to Reality” and “Openness to Challenge” (which would include criticism). John Stuart Mill also talks about the virtues of being open to challenge in the service of the truth in his book “On Liberty.”

    Being able to deal with criticism fairly and honestly is a sign and show of true psychological and spiritual health. The gross inability to deal with criticism honestly and fairly is a sign of emotional immaturity, if not something worse (a personality or character disorder).

    Thanks for the excellent article, Wendy, and best wishes in your endeavors!


    1. Thanks John – I am very grateful for your thoughts and the time and commitment you have put into preparing your very wise comments. Yes, I agree very much with your view that our ability to deal with criticism fairly and honestly is often a reflection of our own well-being.
      I send you my very best wishes

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