Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How To Hold Up Under Criticism

by John Maxwell

Since all leaders have to deal with negativity and criticism, regardless of position or profession, it’s important for them to learn to handle it constructively. Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” However, that isn’t an option for anyone who wants to be successful as a leader. So what do you do?

1. Know Yourself—This Is a Reality Issue
As a young leader I soon learned that having an upfront position was certain to draw criticism, no matter who the leader was or what he did. Highly visible leaders often have to function in difficult environments—such as the office in which the following sign is said to have been displayed:

This department requires no physical fitness program: everyone gets enough exercise jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, running down the boss, knifing friends in the back, dodging responsibility, and pushing their luck.

So if you are automatically going to be criticized if you are a leader, what should you do? First, have a realistic view of yourself. That will lay a solid foundation for you handle criticism successfully. Here’s why: Many times, when a leader is being criticized, it’s really the leadership position that prompts the negative remarks, not the individual leader. You need to be able to separate the two, and you can do that only when you know yourself. If a criticism is directed at the position, don’t take it personally. Let it roll off of you. Knowing yourself well may take some time and effort. As founding father Benjamin Franklin observed, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” However, the effort is worth the reward.

I have to admit that the majority of criticism that I have received over the years was directed more at me than at the position I held. Often people have tried to help me know myself, and the conversation usually began with the phrase “I’m going to tell you something for your own good.” I discovered that when they tell me something for my own good, they never seem to have anything good to tell me! However, I have realized that what I need to hear most is what I want to hear least. From those conversations I have learned much about myself.

Obviously, the things I have found out about myself are not flattering. Yet those weaknesses are a reality. So the question is, what am I to do about it? (John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold, pp. 34-35)

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