“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle
"If you have no critics you'll likely have no success." ~Malcolm Forbes
Most people fear and defend against criticism. They ignore it entirely, they make excuses as to why the criticism isn’t valid, or they shift blame. After all, it isn’t fun to come up short or make mistakes and have someone call you out on it. But leaders in search of greatness know the secret benefits of criticism and handle criticism in a way that cultivates those benefits.
For amazing leaders, handling criticism turbo-charges their career because they make the most of what others treat as toxic. While their peers are motivated and fueled only by praise, these leaders find twice as much motivation, twice as much information, and twice as much fuel for their leadership by embracing both praise and criticism. Making the most out of both good and bad situations gives them a strategic advantage.
And it isn’t just about learning from your mistakes, there are a whole host of benefits of criticism past that to help anyone gain that advantage over the competition. So let’s take a look at them:
Practice not getting emotional – Emotions are something that every leader needs to take into account when formulating a decision. Where emotions go wrong is when they DRIVE the decision and aren’t just another consideration to be carefully evaluated. We are emotional creatures and this is something that can encourage us to make the wrong decisions. Criticism is almost always something that elicits an emotional response. How you deal with the criticism can be just as important over the long term as what you do about the criticized issue in the short term. Great leaders leverage the practice in controlling their emotions so they get just that much better at it and this leads to better decision making down the road.
Encourages humility – Not all emotions are destructive, some can be very constructive. Chief among them from a leadership perspective is humility. Being at the service of a goal greater than your own, and truly submitting to that goal by realizing the contributions of those around you make reaching that goal more likely, are the hallmarks of leadership. Humbly accepting criticism from those above and below you in the organizational hierarchy is where the “rubber meets the road” and where you will prove yourself in leadership.
A source of ideas – Whether the idea is put out there as an alternative, or whether you need to open a discourse with the criticizer(s) to discover one, getting feedback on what doesn’t work is one of the quickest ways to get moving down the path to find ideas that can work.
Fosters flexibility – Response time is a subject that doesn’t get as much press in the leadership discussions as it should. How quickly you constructively respond to stimulus can go a long way to determining how successful you are in the end. Finding a compromise with the person that criticizes you, finding a new process to replace the one that didn’t work, and coming up with measures to ensure that the task is successful this time around requires you to be flexible. Amazing leaders get the most out of this required flexibility and use the practice to get quicker and quicker at it to move down the path of success.
Prevents mistakes – Would you rather make a mistake or stop right before you make it? Of course you want to prevent mistakes and criticism can be the mechanism to assist you in that. Whether it actually stops you from making it, or just stops you from perpetuating the mistake, it is extraordinarily valuable. Great leaders don’t dismiss it; they welcome the opportunity to not compound an error by letting it continue.
Forces you to think – Rational thinking and problem solving are essential aspects of leadership, and facing criticism gives you practice in both. Whether rationally addressing why the criticism is unfounded, thinking about where you erred, or problem solving a new solution around the issue, criticism gives you the motivation and need to exercise both of these traits. How well you exercise them often determines how much criticism you face in the future.
Great people get criticized – As the quotes at the beginning of this article relate, criticism is proof that you are doing something and the more things you do and the greater their importance the more criticism you will likely receive. Amazing leaders, while handling the criticism, give themselves a pat on the back with the assurance that they are at least on the right path.
Practice dealing with tough situations – While criticism doesn’t always equal a crisis (sometimes it does), it isn’t an easy situation. Forgetting about the emotional aspects which are difficult, and focusing on the practical for a moment, criticism requires the leader to adjust, start over, or otherwise change an action that they had planned on going forward with. All of these are the sort of things that build experience for the leader. Amazing leaders embrace this experience and use it to grow.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – The more things that are done, the more that you are open to criticism. This fact gives the leader who makes mistakes and receives criticism practice in separating out the important from the relatively frivolous. Too often leaders magnify the importance of criticism well beyond what it deserves, which clouds their judgement and priorities, which eventually can inhibit results.
Keeps you in line – Underperformance isn’t cool and if a leader isn’t meeting expectations it’s important that they are informed as quickly as possible so it can be addressed before it results in more permanent problems. This is where the person criticizing is doing the leader a favor.
Jumpstarts action – Since criticism is generally painful, one of the ways that amazing leaders deal with that pain is by addressing it immediately. The quicker the pain is addressed, the quicker it goes away. In this case, it is constructive action that is taken, not just ignoring the criticism. That’s the difference between curing an ill and just making it go numb for a while.
Improved communication – While it isn’t the sort of communication people like to receive, criticism is far more in depth than the cursory “Hello’s”, “Goodbye’s” and “Did you see Batman vs. Superman this weekend.” Criticism opens up a dialogue on organizational issues and personal development issues that will make all further important communication easier.
Practice forgiveness – Being able to forgive someone for an offense and get back to the task at hand is how leaders keep their teams developing. In this case, amazing leaders forgive quickly to ensure that they don’t dwell on the mistake or the person and this speeds up resolution of the issue.
Proves someone cares – Do you want to know who doesn’t receive any criticism? Not just the person that does nothing, but also the person that nobody cares about. The fact that you are receiving criticism proves out the point that you are valuable in some way to the person giving the criticism. Enough that they took the time and effort to have a somewhat difficult conversation with you.
Improved relationships – Put the above few reasons together and you have an improved relationship. Amazing leaders take criticism and deal with it in a way that resolves the issue and builds trust between them and the person criticizing. It is an art form, it does take an enormous amount of practice, but in the long-run it can be the most valuable thing to come out of criticism (even more valuable than the resolution of the issue).
Amazing leaders embrace criticism, say “thank you” and ask questions. Yes, they will learn from criticism, but they also use criticism to improve far more than just their understanding.