While working with a group of leaders a few weeks ago, one leader remarked on the weight of responsibility she felt while leading her team. She was questioning whether it was a positive or negative that leadership felt like a heavy weight on her shoulders. Perhaps you feel the same way. Perhaps even right now, you are experiencing one of these realities of leadership:
- You are getting heavily criticized even though you did the right thing.
- People are making assumptions and judging you without asking any questions.
- You did your best with the best intentions and feel like you still made a colossal blunder.
Be encouraged. We like to beat ourselves up internally, but you are doing better than you think you are. You really are. The best leaders get criticized. The best leaders have failed miserably. The best leaders don’t always know if they are doing or did the right thing. The best leaders often must bear leadership as a burden on their shoulders. That’s leadership. That’s the role.
If you feel this weight right now, allow me to share these reminders with you.
- Leaders can’t overreact.
Even when it seems like others are overreacting, judging, and making incorrect assumptions, you can’t. You must be level-headed, even-keeled, open to the truth, without assumptions. That’s what leaders do.
- There is often truth in the criticism.
We must listen to the criticism, even criticism that seems unwarranted, because there is often some truth in it. Even when most of the criticism is wrong and based on assumptions. There is often some truth and a lesson for how to do better or how to approach someone differently in the future.
- Leaders ask questions.
You must ask good questions and then be quiet and listen. Sometimes this is hard, even painful. But it’s necessary. If you’re asking good questions and listening without making assumptions, you’re doing the right thing. And you’re in the minority. While sometimes painful, it is making you a better leader.
- Leaders must objectively decide what to accept and what to reject.
Listening to criticism doesn’t mean that you must accept it. While we listen and take in truth, we also must recognize criticism that isn’t true or based on assumptions. This can be a difficult fine line. I have found it necessary to listen, take in criticism, and then decide how to adjust my leadership going forward. Sometimes that means identifying what I clearly could have done better. Sometimes that is recognizing the source and that there is not validity to the criticism. Often times, it is a mix of both. Sometimes the criticism is coming from someone that really doesn’t know everything – they don’t know why you are doing what you are doing or the heat you are taking from someone else. And you might not even be able to tell them. This can be the most painful – when someone assumes intent about you without knowing what you know. In that case, recognize the criticism for what it is, and be at peace.
- Leaders must address toxic behavior.
There is a difference between criticism and toxic behavior. While we often must listen to criticism, that doesn’t mean we allow toxic behavior. That doesn’t mean you have to sit and be berated. You must address behavior that is berating or toxic, when possible. Criticism should be professional, even when heated and emotional. This gets into the importance of aligning around how we behave as a team (but that’s a different topic). I recognize that sometimes addressing behavior just isn’t possible. But if it’s in your control, don’t allow the toxic behavior, while at the same time taking in the respectful criticism.
- Don’t try to make everyone happy.
This is difficult for me. I want to make everyone happy. I want everyone to like me. Sometimes that causes its own problems when I don’t just come out, be direct, and say what needs to be said. The bottom line? Not everyone is going to like you. As you scale up your leadership, someone is always going to hate what you do. You can’t make everyone happy. Not if you want to make a difference. Your identity and the strength of your leadership is not defined by what everyone thinks about you.
- Don’t let criticism rob you of your joy.
This is the most difficult of all – sometimes it feels almost impossible. But don’t let criticism rob you of your joy. Learn from it. Get better from it. Discard unwarranted judgement and assumption that isn’t true. Rest in the fact that you are doing your best and trying to do the right thing. It’s easy to criticize. It’s much more difficult to take the time to understand. Bathe others with kindness and love, even when not deserved, and lean on others who love and support you.
Be encouraged! You are doing better than you think you are. And you are making a difference whether you realize it or not.