Leadership Series (31): How Did You React To Criticism As A Leader? By Victor A. Imhangbe

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The effective handling of criticism is a skill that can be learned and must be learned when leading others. The activities of religious and political leaders are closely scrutinized because the former is adherence of supernatural being (God) whose divine principle is pure and holy and those who are called to lead the people should lead according to the divine principle and not only to proclaim it. The latter is a position of authority with impute by the masses through election or nomination through a political acceptable process thereby the destiny of the people will directly and indirectly altered either negatively or positively with the policies and programmes that is in place by the political leader. Considering these facts, leaders found themselves under the microscope.

To be an effective leader, one must put themselves out there far enough to be criticised. If you’re not far enough out, nobody will criticise you, and nobody will follow you. The price of leadership is criticism. No one pays much attention to the last-place finishers. But when you’re in front, everything gets noticed. So it is important to learn to handle criticism constructively.

As Opines by John C. Maxwell, “I grew up in a wonderful, loving, positive family. I don’t ever recall my parents criticising anyone. It just wasn’t allowed in our family. So you can imagine the transition I had to make when I got out on my own and began to receive the stinging criticisms of those I was leading. In fact, one of the most difficult emotional hurdles I faced was in handling criticism. And finally a wise old friend told me”, “John, if you’re getting kicked in the rear it means you’re out front.” What he was saying was if you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to be criticised. So get used to it”.

For someone who has sacrifice immensely to make the organisation strive and attain growth and instead of being encouraged, the opposite is the case is really frustrating. If care is not taking persistent criticism may create confusion or it may results to confrontations. In order to handle criticism and make it a booster to you for positive and effective management, it is vital to follow the following steps.

1. Know Yourself: Indeed there are criticisms that can unbalance you and caused distraction by their nature. Rather than being discourage or run after your critics, the best thing is to take it calm and examine yourself. One of the popular quotes by Aristotle on criticism is ““To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” When you tend to want to make everybody happy, but later realised there are some tough decision you must take that may not place you as a caring leader. It is time to ask yourself some salient question if indeed you want to make people happy or to lead?

The above question will not come to mind without knowing who you are. Often time, critics help leader to know him/herself. They may come to you and let you know what they are about to tell you is in your own good and interest. However, after listening to what they have to say, you found out those things are of no interest to you as they claimed. It is such conversation that helps leaders to know their self including many weaknesses.

An objective leader will realised what they want to hear the most is what they want to hear the least. In realities, it turns out that the best people to make a good leader are the constructive critics not the praise singer or friends.

2. Change Yourself: In making genuine effort to scan the contents of what your critics have to say, you are not only knowing yourself, but at the same time changing yourself. Aldous Huxley opines that ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.” In actual sense, the truth that makes you free is, for the most part, the truth we would prefer not to hear and that is the truth we need to learn from to becoming a good leader.

QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF
There are vital question you must ask yourself to determine whether criticism is constructive or destructive as enunciated by John C. Maxwell.

  • Who criticized me? Adverse criticism from a wise person is more desirable than the enthusiastic approval of a fool.
  • How was it given? Were the words judgmental or did they give me the benefit of the doubt? In other words, what was the spirit in which the criticism was given?
  • Why was it given? Was it given to inflict a personal hurt or for my benefit?

Here is the reaction of Jonas Salk; who discovered polio vaccine to his numerous critics. “People will tell you that you are wrong. Then they will tell you that you are right, but what you’re doing is really not important. Finally, they will admit that you are right and what you are doing is very important. But after all, they knew it all the time.”

Notwithstanding whether the criticism is legitimate or not, it is the altitude towards the words you do not want to hear is what determine if they become your strength or weakness. The right thing to do is not to be defensive by criticism, but to focus on the truth and make necessary correction in making headway.

3. Accept Yourself. When you accept yourself, you become yourself, love yourself, trust yourself, have more confidence and encourage yourself on the work you are doing judiciously, even without positive result yet. By the time you have confidence in your critics, you can lost focus and derailed and they will mock at you. If you truly know your target and refused to dwell on set back and distraction, your result will be your testimony. It is important to know there is no celebration in being diligent alone, until there are positive results to show for it.

Accepting yourself is a leadership trait of showing maturity in face of criticism. Abby Kelly defines maturity as “the ability to stick with the job until it’s finished the ability to do the job without being supervised, the ability to carry money without spending it, and the ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.” Sometime people try to make you adopt someone else personality because such a person has enormous achievement in life, but if you try to be such a person you will only be the second best. The best and easiest thing to be in the world is you. The worst and most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. If you worry about what people think of you, it’s because you have more confidence in their opinion than you have in yourself.

4. Forget Yourself: It is one thing to desire to make a change that will better the lots of the people, another thing is despite all the effort made, the results is not that encouraging, and this tend to create anxiety and being worried which can leads to making mistakes. As a young man with so many burden and unaccomplished goals in life, it is normal to form the habit of always worrying and the feelings of what our immediate environment and the world thinks of us. However, by the time we attained some level of maturity or attain an advance age in life, we realise the world wasn’t paying much attention as initially envisage. The sense of insecurity creates anxiety, while secure people forget themselves so they can focus on others. This allows us to be secure enough to take criticism and even went further to serve the critics.

In the middle of doing something very horrible and foolish, try to get amused by laughing at yourself at a time. I have even had to laugh at depression that got my hair pulling off some years ago as a result of self-pity and feeling of not achieving anything in life.
Secure people are quite aware of their environment. They are aware they are prone to make mistakes and have weaknesses as humans, but they don’t have to lower themselves to the level of going after the people that may have said something derogatory about them, let alone to allow what has been said to disturb them thereby losing focus. Secure people don’t have to defend themselves, but allow the result of their final effort speak for them and prove their critics wrong.

Again, recalling the word of John C. Maxwell; when it comes to criticism, it’s important to first understand that half of the issues people raise about you are true. So just take inventory, suck it up and change. And the other half they say about you is not; they are just revealing issues in their own lives. If you know yourself, you will know what you are good at and what you are not. Start changing the things that are real and forget yourself so that you can focus on others. Because the criticism will never stop. If you are able to get to this fourth stage, criticism won’t have a negative effect in your life. And that’s a big lesson. Bear in mind that if you’re getting kicked in the rear, it means you’re out in front.

Indeed there are critics whose ulterior motive is to ensure you are derailed as a leader. There are critics too; whose interest is for you to succeed. In third world countries for instance, some leaders are carried away to a point of hounding their critics, not minding how constructive such criticism might be. Of course there are destructive criticisms as well. A leader that has a grasped of the previous chapter; and the above discussion will be well equipped to handle criticism no matter how strong; turn it around in terms of delivering dividend of good leadership to the people. The following series will discuss how not to be a victim of sycophants as a leader. Your opinion and feedback is appreciated on the comment column. Do you like the piece? It’s always good to share.

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