“The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” Norman Vincent Peale
I’ve known people who are “heavy.” This isn’t in the sense of being physically heavy. Instead, they are emotionally heavy people who weigh others down, kill spirits and make others feel depressed. Their attitude is like a big bag of rocks and they hand them to other people one at a time until they are weighed down as well. It’s difficult to move forward when emotionally heavy people are around. Their heaviness slows down everyone.
Fears, noise and distractions also weigh people down. The noise and distractions could also be residue from the ongoing process of chiseling oneself into a true leader. Leaders should remind themselves to dust off every day and ensure they are not carrying around left-over chips on their shoulders.
These can come in the form of criticism, both destructive and constructive. We may be judged on our merits and faults, and that may not always be within our comfort zone. In fact, it can be quite painful but it is an important part of honing ourselves into better people and leaders.
By following just a few simple techniques, a leader can take the sting out of criticism. Most importantly, remove emotions as much as possible and do not take the comments personally. Filter out jealousy and hate and find the real message, then face it head on. This does not mean engaging in a negative exchange. Instead, let the other person know that you heard them, you assume they have good intentions and thank them for their feedback.
By dissipating your reaction, the other person may soften their message or ramp it up. In any case, maintaining a non-defensive stance will increase the chances of a positive relationship with the critic in the future and bolster your own sense of confidence as a steady, calm leader.
Practicing the skill of managing criticism professionally can have a powerful impact on those who see you as a leader and mentor. It is a skill we will all need at some point. It is where solid self-esteem and character set apart true leaders.
When we react naturally, most likely that will be from a place of hurt and even anger. Setting aside emotions can help to put the situation in perspective and allow us to handle it logically. Treat it as a learning moment and move on.
Overreacting to criticism can certainly be a remaining chip that could keep a leader from hearing others who are encouraging and inspiring them. More often than not we tend to only value praise. However, the way we handle criticism says much more about our character.
I have always found so much truth in the quote from the late motivational leader Zig Ziglar,
“Don’t be distracted by criticism. Remember, the only taste of success some people have is taking a bite out of you.”
When being criticized, it is important to first consider who the criticism is coming from. Is it from someone who genuinely wants to see you excel? Did you ask for feedback or were the comments unsolicited?
This came to mind when I received one negative comment out of dozens of positive comments after a presentation. I distribute comment sheets for people in my seminars to offer feedback. These comments give me an opportunity to fine-tune my message and look for ways to be more effective.
In this case, I analyzed the negative comment to try to understand its context so that I could improve my presentation. I also asked others who have seen my presentation to help me better understand what the comment might mean.
Finally, I realized that my ripple effect isn’t always going to be a perfect circle. I also learned that all of the positive comments reinforced my desire to encourage leaders to learn and grow. Before long, my ripple became a wave. I returned from that conference facing my busiest month ahead. I delivered the same message but with even more passion and confidence.
The fear of criticism must not paralyze us or rob us of our potential.
Being an effective leader comes with great responsibility. It also comes with accountability and a fair amount of criticism. Dealing with criticism can be a challenge for many leaders. It requires self-awareness and reflection of how others perceive us. Until we are willing to see the perception of others we will never have the ability to change and with that is the true value of how we receive feedback.
Leading is risky business. We risk being “not liked” all the time. We risk being wrong in front of others. We risk being judged unfairly. We risk being under the spotlight and seeing flaws in ourselves that we need to correct.
It’s true, everyone will face criticism at some point of their lives, but a leader can’t allow negative connotations to affect their confidence. No one likes the feeling of being criticized, but leaders who are confident in who they are, know how to evaluate and learn from the feedback.
The sign of great leadership is someone who can accept feedback by responding positively to it and appreciating value in the suggestions. It’s this ability that says a lot about an individual’s character.
When leaders own it and are willing to learn from it, constructive criticism can be a growth factor in expanding our effectiveness. A true leader is not gripped by isolated comments and knows how to separate genuine feedback from personal attacks. They learn to extract truth and disregard the untruths.
It’s also an opportunity that allows others to witness a positive reaction from a leader when they are criticized. The ability to listen, learn and acknowledge the possibility of improvement is a lesson that only the most respected leaders can effectively teach by example.