As a leader, I have accepted that some people love what you do and how you do it. Others will simply not mind, and still others will experience some kind of dissonance with what you bring to the world. Some of the people in that third group will choose to tell you what they think. Depending on HOW they chose to tell you, may land in your inbox as feedback, criticism or a downright personal attack. What must you do and don’t do when that happens?
It’s important to acknowledge that people are welcome to their opinion. Even if it differs to yours. For the last few years I have been transitioning and reengineering a wonderful local Church, and there have been many numbers of opinions about how people involved in this experience think it’s going. In any people environment, there will be differences of opinions. This is unavoidable; how you learn to handle that is so, so important. Ellen Swallow Richards said, “If you keep your feathers well oiled the water of criticism will run off as from a duck’s back.” How then do you as a leader, keep your ‘feathers well oiled’? Here are five DO’S that I am learning to live by. Next week I will add five DON’TS.
DO: Acknowledge you will be criticised by someone, sometime.
This helps you avoid escapism. At my core, I love to be in relational harmony with people, so criticism has the power to really knock me off course. There will be critics. This allows you to recognise that even in the midst of moving forward and making progress and taking new ground there is always an open door for the critic. Always. It’s not a question of “Will I?” but more a question of “When will I?” Knowing that gives you the opportunity to create a game plan to handle criticism, a team to debrief it with, and the space to learn well from it.
DO: Realise that you might take it personally. For a while.
Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” lied! I have not met a balanced individual that enjoys personal criticism. What gets said, where it gets said and who says it can all have a negative impact on your leadership confidence and the direction and decisions you may make.
Bottom line. Criticism hurts. Sometimes a great deal. Acknowledging that fact is the starting point of reframing the experience and it becoming a resource for you rather than an obstacle. I’m a verbal processor. If I catch myself rehearsing a conversation with my critic (incidentally where I convincingly win all the arguments) then I KNOW, I have not processed the criticism in a timely or resourceful way.
Be sure to discover the way you experience and unpack criticism so the journey can be one that serves you rather than stuns you.
DO: Assess who the criticism came from, when, and how.
The source of the criticism is critical. My leadership is heavily influenced by the bible and the wisdom that is in it says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” I have people close to me that can step right into my face and tell me what’s right and what’s wrong. I still don’t like it but I like those wounds a great deal more than the distant individual choosing to make an uncontested comment on social media.
When criticism comes your way it’s essential to know where it came from and from whom it came. That will give you the opportunity to discern how much weight you give it. As a rule don’t read unsigned communication, don’t engage in arguments online, and don’t continue the conversation where the names of the critics are withheld. There is simply NO VALUE at all in pursuing that course of action.
When you know who is doing the criticising, you can evaluate how you respond.
DO: Build a circle of trusted people who you debrief with.
It is essential that you find the best way for you to process and learn from the criticism you experience. In point two, I acknowledge that it can hurt. One technique I have learnt is that when it does hurt that is an indication the experience has something to teach me. A friend of mine has a professional colleague he affectionately calls his “Shrink” to work the issues through with. I have close friends, mentors, key team members as well as my Board to help me navigate the inevitable. Have someone in your corner to help you unpack and make sense of the experience and learn from it.
Make the goal of personal criticism to be better not bitter. Develop a dream team to help you move onwards and upwards in the face of criticism. Know how you need to debrief and learn the lesson. Build some accountability that makes the changes in you.
DO: Consider next steps that exhibit love and promote relationship.
Ancient script also advises “In all things love.” So much easier to say than do. The discipline I suggest you put into place is respond only at such time that what you do and what you say will promote loving relationships, progress and productive movement.
Some time ago my reputation was being given a pounding on social media. I saw it; my wife saw it, my family saw it and my staff saw it. The morning of the criticism reaching its zenith was the same morning I walked from office to office instructing each one of my team to say nothing and do nothing. “We will respond with thunderous silence” I said. On occasions, silence is the most powerful response you can have. Gentleness invests into your future. Personal discipline protects your reputation.
I don’t always get it right, but I trust I’m getting better.
Next week. Five DON’TS for handling criticism.
#leadsmall – because when you do, big things can happen.