4 Tips for Handling Criticism as a Leader

Leaders are vulnerable to criticism, and while it can sting at times, some might find it easier to give in and please others just to avoid any unpleasantries.

It is also important to note that leadership isn’t a popularity contest. Granted it’s nice to receive respect and admiration from your team members and colleagues, but you cannot base your success on that alone. 

In your work, you must make tough decisions at times, and it will be challenging to make everyone happy, so be careful and selective to the criticism that you direct your energy to changing. 

Whatever the source of the criticism — be it personality clashes, disagreements about how to approach projects or other important deliverables — guess what? It doesn’t matter.

As a leader, you cannot “pass the buck,” deflect blame or invalidate criticism. You must face it head on and use it constructively to move your own performance, team, and organization forward more effectively. Yes, it’s a balancing act, and it will never be easy, but it comes with the responsibility of leadership.

The key to handling criticism with grace requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and confidence, and it also means admitting when you’ve made mistakes. In fact, I believe self-awareness is the crucial foundation in which you should build your leadership style and brand.

Ultimately, you need to understand that not all criticism is created equal. Consider who it’s coming from, and then proceed accordingly.

How to Handle Criticism Like a Grounded Leader

Grounded leaders see criticism as an opportunity for growth on how to become a more effective leader, and here is my advice for building your self-awareness and handling criticism:

#1 — Don’t Ignore It – It Can Help You Grow

Ignoring criticism is a no-win strategy. Remember that criticism isn’t always negative. It can be constructive, helping you iron out details that you may have missed in a project or helping you fine-tune a proposed initiative that needs a little more cohesiveness, for example. The worst thing you can do is ignore it completely – learn to digest and handle it directly. That’s how an emotionally intelligent leader does it – by putting their personal feelings aside and dealing with it head on.

#2 — Don’t Play the Victim Card
It’s only natural for leaders, and people in general, to sometimes play the victim in response to criticism and feedback. This can be very detrimental to your career, as you will lose out on opportunities to grow and develop as a leader. Take the feedback and insights and handle it like a mature adult with pride to be better and do better.

#3 — Be Thoughtful When Responding

As mentioned, ignoring criticism is not ideal on your part and playing the victim is even worse. You want to be mindful that you don’t respond with a knee-jerk reaction or make hasty decisions just to side-step the emotional charge. Be methodical by stopping and stepping back to assess the situation before reacting. Then you can respond in a grounded, respectful, and tactful way.

#4 — Own Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes, and as a leader, with all you we must juggle, you cannot expect to be perfect every day. Receiving constructive criticism that comes from a genuine supportive place, is an opportunity for growth. After all, leadership is not linear – we are learning all the time.

More Advice for Handling Criticism with Grace

Whenever you begin to handle criticism, and any aspect of leadership more effectively, you will feel a positive shift in your approach. That can be gauged quite easily when you see the shift in the way people provide feedback to you. You may also notice that your people will respect you more which will also drive increased engagement and productivity.

Criticism and feedback is one of the areas of leadership that can be the most challenging. If you want to feel more confident about managing and processing it, no matter the source, please reach out. I can provide valuable advice tailored to your situation and your specific goals.

Email me at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca or give me a call at 1-855-871-3374 and together, we’ll work together to leverage the feedback and insights to enable your leadership effectiveness and impact.

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