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Leveraging Criticism for Great Leadership

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

One common team- and culture-building activity is soliciting and reviewing feedback from your team members. However, as much as we know we need to take the good with the bad, criticism can be very hard to respond to confidently and gracefully.

Some of us can easily accept compliments or suggestions. Some of us even enjoy welcoming completely new ideas. But when it comes to criticism, that’s where most of us shut the door, turn off the phone, or check out. Yet, if we can learn to be receptive to criticism about ourselves and even view it as a gift, we can open the door to possibility.

Learning to accept and leverage criticism can be one of the most constructive and profound tools to change ourselves, improve our relationships with others, and become great leaders. Not only can we learn more about who we are and how others see us, but we may also begin to accept that it’s okay not to be perfect – the foundation of self-compassion and self-love. It can also help us recognize that people will accept us and possibly even have more respect for us, warts and all if we are open, accountable, and resilient upon receiving criticism.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Receive Criticism as a Gift

When you receive feedback in the form of complaints, negative comments, and criticism and start to feel triggered, you can turn the negative emotion around by taking a few deep breaths, centering yourself, and asking the following questions:

  1. How is my inner critic reacting to the criticism? Am I beating myself up or judging and blaming someone else in defense?

  2. How can I bring kindness and humanness into the solution for myself and others, knowing that what is happening in this one situation does not define anyone involved?

  3. What positive feedback can I factor into consideration to see a bigger picture perspective of the situation and the severity of the issue?

  4. What assumptions or interpretations am I making about the messenger or situation that might be triggering me?

  5. How can I really hear and validate other people's points of view about the situation without leading or clouding the conversation with my assumptions and interpretations?

  6. What expectations, priorities, and goals need to be communicated or reiterated to clear up any misunderstandings?

  7. Was the manner in which I received the criticism as much of an issue as the criticism itself - i.e. was it delivered with disrespect, aggression, and/or shaming? How can I address the proper process for submitting feedback and the basic core values I expect to uphold in personal interactions as a separate issue?

  8. How and when can I have a solution-focused, open conversation with the messenger and/or other parties to uncover the truth and explore solutions?

  9. How can I find a win-win solution by taking responsibility for what's within my control, improving myself, and enabling others?

  10. How can I find an opportunity for growth and positive change in the situation?

Once you determine the truth about the criticism you have received and about the point of view of the messenger, you are on the path toward positive change in your behavior and mindset. Building the mental muscle to quickly recognize and turn around any anger, self-criticism, and defensiveness quickly is a conscious leadership tool that can create a smooth path to solutions and to a workplace where you and your team spend more time in productive flow than in disarray and dysfunction.

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Andrea MacKenzie, Founder of Lead With Harmony, is an MBA, multi-certified coach, Kolbe-Certified consultant, and leadership and team-building expert with over 20 years of combined experience in corporate roles and business consulting. Andrea enjoys working with growth-oriented business owners and executives who advocate for the advancement and well-being of the people they serve, hire, and inspire.

Part of this content is edited and used under license, © Claire Communications

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