[May 6, 2018] Wilson, a childhood friend of mine, was an exceptionally smart guy but he had a real dislike of people who would criticize him in any way. One of the more difficult things for anyone to do is to listen patiently to criticism about themselves.
This is a tough one. Wilson is someone without much tolerance of people who disagree with him (he sees this as implicit criticism) and those who outright criticize him (for any reason). If you criticize him, Wilson will throw a fit and then walk away. Yet, folks like Wilson are certainly not a rarity but are, in fact, surprisingly common.
A number of university professors I’ve known over the years will tell me that they are considering early retirement because so many of their students act almost deranged when anyone says anything that the student disagrees with. Being a professor does require some tact but it does not mean that criticism of students should be completely avoided; yet, that is what’s happening.
I learned a long time ago that listening to criticism of me was both very difficult to do but very productive. I also learned to listen to all criticism, regardless of the source. Listening to this criticism was important for two reasons.
First, it gives a leader the chance to toughen up. In the Army, we called it growing a tough skin. It was all about being a strong leader and being impervious to anything. Being a “man” meant being able to take verbal attacks on one’s self without it being emotionally upsetting.
Second, it gives a leader insight into how others perceive them and valuable information on what could be a problem. True, some people are idiots and what they have to say might not be too important but taken together with others there might actually be a pattern leaders should recognize. Even idiots are known to be right occasionally.
Of course, one should accept all criticism with grace and politely thank those who do so. This doesn’t mean a leader should accept it all without analysis and good judgment. This is what makes a good leader and an appreciated leader; one who is willing to learn and make improvements to themselves.