Embrace your Critics – Here’s How

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“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing” ~ Aristotle

I had my first real harsh blog post critic last week and it was a great! Let me explain.

I recently wrote an article called 10 Simple Ways to Become an Extraordinary Leader in 2015. In the article, I shared ways to show respect for employees from my 25 years of experience as a leader in both the military and industry. The post received a lot of attention on LinkedIn and the feedback was mostly positive until it crossed the desk of my critic.

My post must have hit a nerve. The following day, she posted an article called Just How Sick of Leadership Posts Are We? The article featured my story prominently displayed as the example of what is wrong with all stories on leadership.

As I read through her post, I went through a number of emotions like anger, frustration, and indignation. Then I began to see her point and understand her perspective. I soon realized these are the same emotions I’ve experienced before when dealing with “business critics.” We’ve all had experiences with these type of critics. They are the ones challenging your assumptions, telling you you’re not doing it right, reminding you that it didn’t work in the past, or saying it can’t be done.

If you’re a leader doing big things, you are going to encounter a lot of critics along the way. Consider it a badge of honor. The challenge is to learn how to avoid letting criticism derail your plans while still using the feedback to refine your activities.

As a leader, dealing with criticism is an important skill. Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology at George Mason University, says one of the most important things you need to master as a leader is how to handle feedback well. He suggests 3 strategies:

1. Look at the person doing the criticism. Molly Cantrell-Kraig, founder of Women With Drive Foundation, says there are three types of critics you should really listen to: Those speaking from a position of caring, those who have successfully navigated the situation about which they are talking, and those who bring solutions with their criticism. She suggests these are the type of critics who will genuinely help you refine your activities. Critics who might otherwise have an agenda, a conflict of interest, or stand to gain from criticizing your efforts should not be given the same level of attention.

2. Understand that everyone has biases. Not all critics have the same world-view as you. While it is important to seek diverse opinions when creating plans, it is equally important to understand that the past experiences of others will affect their advice. Understanding the perspective of your critic will better help you decide on how to utilize their advice.

3. Create space between you and your plans. As a leader, we need to learn to create distance between our plans and ourselves. It allows us to look at criticism from a more rational perspective, avoiding the obvious emotional response. If we view criticism as aimed at our plans and not us, we can create the distance we need to look at criticism more objectively. This is necessary to find those nuggets of advice that will help us improve our efforts.

Leadership is about influence and change and anytime you implement change, there will be critics. As a leader, it is important you understand the motivation of your critics and their biases. It’s also critical to create a distance from yourself and your plans. These strategies will help you avoid the emotional effect of criticism while still using the feedback to further refine your activities.

I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite perspective on critics from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizen in a Republic” speech called “The Man in the Arena.”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

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