Sooner or later, most leaders are the target of criticism. The way you handle this criticism will set the path for your future as a leader. In her article for Fortune.com, Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn, explains what she does to keep naysayers from stopping her progress.
In your leadership role, you may face ‘negative scrutiny’ from the people in your company and from those outside the company. You have several ways to address the problem. These responses to criticism or threat have been well documented by students of human behavior. Most of these responses are variations on the themes of flee or fight.
If your first reaction is to storm off in a flurry of tears and feel wounded by those who aren’t going along with your plan, you might need to reconsider whether you’re ready for a leadership role.
Bloomgarden discusses a couple of ways to engage in the other primary response – the fight. It’s natural to seek retribution against those who are speaking ill of you. If a team member has been talking trash about your latest plan, you might try to force his separation from the company. If you’re a public figure, many of your ideas and strategies will be criticized by outsiders. You might be tempted to engage in a nasty exchange with these folks — a strategy which will cast a negative light on everyone involved but will delight the media.
You can also make criticism work for you. Analyze the details of the negative comments. When a team member has been trying to weaken your authority, it might be because they’re jealous because of a lost promotion, or they might feel that you’re not leading the way they’d hoped. Invite this person to a meeting or out to coffee and get to the bottom of the problem. Start building a relationship and try to get him focused on the work that needs to be done.
You can take the same strategy with external critics. Start by acknowledging the criticism. Then offer positive feedback about something they’re doing in order to create a more positive vibe. Above all, with your trusted team in place, don’t let the critics force you to change the goals you’ve established as you lead your company.