[December 16, 2013] All leaders must learn to deal with criticism. One way of distinguishing the more senior leader from others is by the level of criticism that targets them and the effort they take to overcome the criticism.
“It is difficult to name any leader who was spared criticism.” – Donald Rumsfeld
It can be said that senior executive leaders are, in part, who they are by how well they have learned from and adapted to criticism during the development of their leadership style.
Common knowledge says that the amount of criticism that leaders receive is closely associated with their exposure to organizational decision-making. Being a senior leader sometimes means making hard decisions and there will always be people who do not like that.
During a MSNBC interview on the Morning Joe show, Lynne Cheney used the quote “Dogs don’t bark at parked cars.” This was her way of saying her husband, Dick Cheney, was such a “lightning rod” in the President Bush administration because he was in the decision loop to get things accomplished.
The message is that a leader who gets things done will be criticized. Leaders who are out ahead of others and truly accomplishing the mission and working hard can be expected to receive more than their share of criticism.
Leaders can make the criticism less personal. In the military we like to say that leaders must be “thick skinned” – resistant to sharp barbs.
Here are some ways to handle criticism:
- Always remain positive and have a good attitude.
- Try to find a lesson in the criticism and learn from it.
- Keep things in perspective.
- Keep your humor, hopefulness, and humility.
- Never sacrifice your integrity.
- Have reliable family and friends.
- Be professional, be respectful, be prepared to fire people (a little tongue and cheek humor, but true)
Senior leaders have been known to avoid criticism by deferring hard decisions. Or, giving decisions to less senior leaders to make and blaming them when things don’t go as expected. We have all run across this type of “leader” in our careers.
I once had a politician who I worked for tell me, “I’ll take credit for everything that goes right and blame you for everything that goes wrong.” Such a classic failed and narcissistic leader is bad for everyone.
As leaders and senior leaders, there is great responsibility to do what is best for the organization and its employees. Professionalism, in thought and deed, is what leaders do.