Criticism and the Great Leader

leadership May 10, 2019

How do you deal with criticism as a leader?

People deal with criticism all sorts of ways—but the way a manager handles criticism says a lot about the type of leader they are.

But first, what is leadership?

Leadership is the art of leading others to deliberately create a result that would not have happened otherwise.

But there’s so much more to it than that. Great leaders possess skills and qualities that most others don’t.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

To be a great leader, you need to dream, communicate, take action, and commit. But there are many other key skills and qualities of a good leader. These include:

  • Communication
  • Awareness
  • Positivity
  • Motivation
  • Honesty
  • Innovation
  • Responsibility
  • Creativity
  • Adding value to others
  • Relationship building

 ...and, of course, the ability to take constructive criticism and feedback.

A leader is a person of influence. They add value to others. And to be able to do this, they must be able to remain positive and deal with criticism constructively.

In fact, criticism is the price of leadership.

It is not something I used to handle well—particularly in my early leadership days.

Looking back, I recognize that some of the decisions I made then were focused on making people like me. My decisions were motivated by a desire to avoid criticism.

These decisions were not good for my career, my future, or my role as a leader. More importantly, they were not good for the people I was supposed to be leading.

When you lead people, you influence them. And the only way to influence and motivate people is to constantly be improving, changing, and progressing.

You simply can’t do that if you can’t handle criticism.

Aristotle said:

"Criticism is something you can avoid—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing."

At times, that was me in my early career, before I learned how to deal with criticism constructively. By saying and doing nothing, I became nothing more than a person with a position. I was not leading.

Expect criticism. It is the price of leadership.

Many years have passed since those early days and I have continued to grow as a leader.

Through a lifetime of practicing leadership, I have learned that to truly lead, I must not only expect criticism, but welcome it. In fact, when I do not receive criticism, I question whether I am truly leading.

"When You Get Kicked in the Rear, You Know You’re out in Front."

 - John C. Maxwell

To be a great leader, we don't have the option of saying, doing, and being nothing.

We must accept criticism as the price of leadership, and lead well and grow.

Here are a few ways you can use criticism to lead well.

  1. Expect criticism.

Criticism is the price of leadership. In order to constantly improve yourself, you have to expect others to give you the criticism you need to do that.

  1. Accept criticism.

A strong leader is confident and sure of herself. One of the best qualities of a good leader and confident person is that they are open to constructive criticism. They are confident enough in themselves to know that there is always room for improvement.

Constructive criticism is a vital part of their leadership, growth, and organization's culture.

  1. Keep criticism in perspective.

Assume that all feedback is logical and worthy of your honest consideration, but don't give so much weight to one criticism that you don't consider other forms.

  1. Appreciate criticism.

"The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticisms."

- Norman Vincent Peale

Strong leaders openly and quickly admit when they are wrong. They understand they are not perfect. They grow stronger when they make mistakes or fail, because they learn from these experiences.

Criticism can be a measure of how well you are leading. If you are not being criticized, you may want to consider whether you have slipped from leading to following.

  1.  Limit your response to criticism.

"The final proof of greatness is to endure criticism without resentment."

- Elbert Hubbard

Don’t respond negatively to constructive criticism. Being able to take criticism without being offended is one of the most telling qualities of a good leader.

  1. Don’t allow criticism to stop you from achieving your higher purpose.

Great leaders expect, welcome, and appreciate criticism because they know how to keep it in perspective. They do not allow critics to deter them from achieving their higher purpose.

Remember: The higher the purpose or the more necessary the organizational change, the greater the level of criticism.

So if you are a leader, expect criticism. The more necessary the change, the greater the level of criticism. Take this criticism and use it to make changes and to grow as a leader and influencer.

Call to Action:

  1. When was the last time your leadership was criticized?
  2. Was the criticism directed at you personally or at your leadership decision?
  3. How did you respond?
  4. What were the results of your response? What might have happened if you had responded differently?
  5. How can you create a culture of constructive criticism within your organization?

Want to learn more about how you can be a great leader? Here are some of our most popular posts about leadership:

Painting a vivid picture of your leadership vision

Leadership: It’s an Endurance Sport

Three Surprising Qualities of Empowering Leaders



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