I used to love to watch The Muppet Show when I was a kid. My favorite characters were the two old men, Statler and Waldorf, who sat in the balcony. Statler and Waldorf were the resident critics of The Muppet Show. They were always funny, and always gained attention by pointing out the faults of the performers on stage.
Each week these resident critics had a scene that was sure to entertain and amuse the millions of viewers who were watching the show. And like true critics, they never left; instead, they chose to stick around and poke fun at the rest of the cast. Ironically, these old critics never had a part in what was going on on stage. Instead, they chose to judge everyone else from afar in hopes that they could get a “side-bar” audience.
If you are in leadership, you have critics. And if you think you don’t have them, then you are in utter and complete denial! It doesn’t matter how nice you are, how generous you are, how well you lead, or what you do or don’t do, or say or don’t say. If you’re a leader, then you have critics. Period.
Like Statler and Waldorf, there will be people who sit on the side of the stage and judge your performance. They will try their best to gain an audience by making fun of you, pointing out your faults, and questioning everything you do. However, the mark of a true leader is one who knows how to respond to his or her critics with Grace.
As a leader, it’s important to know how to receive and respond to criticism. When someone criticizes you, regardless of what the criticism is, it’s important to have a system to process it.
Here’s my system:
1. Consider the source – Is this a person (or group) who genuinely has your best interest, or the best interest of the organization, at heart? Are they heavily invested in the organization that you are leading?
2. Ask the question, “Is there ANY truth in the criticism?“ – Don’t just look for the obvious answer, but instead, really do some soul searching to see if there is any truth at all in what the person is saying…ANY truth.
3. Ask someone else – Ask someone that you love, respect, and trust to tell you whether or not the criticism is valid. Smart leaders surround themselves with people who don’t just tell them what they want to hear; instead, they tell them what the need to hear, which is the truth…even when the truth hurts.
4. Respond with grace– After you’ve considered and processed the criticism, and slept on it (a very important point- always sleep on it), respond with a non-defensive posture. If you’ve discovered any truth in the criticism, be real and admit it. If not, then be gracious and agree to disagree. And whatever you do, don’t waste time trying to prove the other person wrong- this will get you nowhere and it will waste valuable time.
5. Move on! – After you’ve worked the process, move on! Don’t re-play the tape and allow the criticism to eat away at you. Put it behind you and forge ahead with passion, firm in your convictions, to pursue the vision that you’ve been entrusted with.
So, there it is. It’s not a perfect system, nor is it the “end all be all” to dealing with critics. I’m sure as I grow in leadership my thoughts will change on the matter. But for now, this is what’s working for me.
Finally, remember that none of us has arrived. We all have a lot to learn, and we can learn from the least likely of individuals. There is no place for arrogance in leadership. The moment you think you’ve got all the answers is the moment that you’ve become an island; and like the old saying goes, “No man is an island.”
Think about it.