By Amin Kef Sesay
His critics should allow musician Emmerson Bockarie to have his say in ‘Kokonat Ed’ because in a democracy that respects freedom of speech, criticism is a natural part of leadership.
Leadership is not easy and handling criticism is an unwritten rule in the job description. It happens often and if you lead to win, advance others and the organization you serve – you should expect criticism and know how to handle it. Those leaders that take it personally will find their leadership role short lived.
As such, leaders and their organizations are often criticized. As the saying goes, “It’s difficult to get to the top, but even harder to stay there.”
Why is it harder to stay on top? Because it’s easy to grow complacent – and it’s difficult to endure the critics that don’t believe you’ve earned the right to be there in the first place. Staying focused is critical when you are a leader and diffusing the noise by staying focused on the next level of evolution in your business will help you shut down your critics.
Fact of the matter is that, if no one is criticizing your leadership – you are not leading correctly. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leadership is about always doing what is in the best interest of the organization you are serving.
Leaders get paid to make the difficult decisions. But many leaders don’t really know how to lead; they waste time trying to satisfy the agendas of others – rather than focusing on the goals and objectives of the organization and people they serve.
This is why leadership is in crisis management mode. Authority is being over leveraged as a personal benefit to advance hidden agendas, rather than as a privilege and a responsibility to wield influence over adverse circumstances and turn them into opportunities. The latter takes hard work and strategic focus.
Leadership requires mental toughness. If you are not being criticized, you are not leading and guiding the organization to grow, innovate and explore endless possibilities. You need to be strong and objective to whatever criticism people throw your way.
Effective leaders stay focused on confronting conflict head on – and move on to the next opportunity. When you get too personally vested, it becomes difficult to handle criticism and you eventually become stereotyped and your authority weakens.
Being a 21st century leader requires you to be a change agent and people don’t like to change — especially old-school leaders now focused on retirement or anyone else that has grown complacent and lost their momentum.
Everyone wants to experience success. Unfortunately, momentum is disrupted by those who want the individual credit; the recognition that benefits them comes at the expense of earning the respect that reverberates and multiples throughout the organization for the betterment of a healthier whole.
As you lean-into the challenges and new opportunities that come with them, remember that criticism is a natural process of the leadership journey. Since criticism is never easy to handle, keep the following four ways in mind to ensure you handle it wisely.
As a leader, own the criticism and convert it into new opportunities previously unseen. Be a change agent and turn the negativity into a platform to enable growth, innovation and endless possibilities.
When faced with criticism, step back and assess the situation. Be patient, don’t react impulsively. Too many leaders get defensive, focus more on their reputation and overreact, rather than evaluate the situation at hand.
Don’t Take It Personally. As a leader, you must be mindful not to get overly attached to the business and the issues at hand. When you take criticism too personally, it becomes more difficult to be objective towards meeting the needs of the business and the people you lead.
Criticism is another way of saying “learning moments.” Though you can never be perfect when leading, you must be open-minded enough to course correct along the way. Leadership requires you to pivot, renew and reinvent yourself. Though you may have experienced success in the past, leadership requires you to invest in yourself so that you can become a better, faster and more fluid change agent.
One of the most important qualities of leadership is being a good listener. And that applies just as much, if not more, when you are being criticized. Don’t try to shut it down. In fact, turn up the volume and really listen to what is being said. Too many times leaders turn the criticism around on the person speaking up, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to learn from someone else.