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Gut Check: Can You Handle Criticism From Afar?

15-01-12 Twitter CEO

Most leaders accept that their performance is always under the microscope, particularly those in the executive and C-Suite ranks. And more so than ever, it seems that everyone feels they have the right to call out your performance.

Whether it’s traditional media or social media – it doesn’t matter; the digital age is fertile ground for critics and it’s a minefield for business leaders.

Sometimes, this criticism is unfair – observations spun by people who know little about business and even less about the people they are criticizing. And yet, in other instances, the criticism can be spot on.

As a leader, your job is to figure out which criticism is unfair, and which is valid. But how does one do that? Recent headlines from the business world reveal just how difficult this can be.

Consider the dilemma faced by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. The company’s earnings are up but stock prices have declined nearly 40 per cent over concern the social media icon will be unable to continue growing its user base.

This has caused a number of industry watchers to criticize Costolo’s performance. The most devastating commentary came from Harvard Business School Professor Bill George, who told CNBC in late December that Costolo was not “in the same class” as the leaders of Google and Facebook, and should consider resigning. [Tweet “Most spend more time trying to discredit critics rather then absorbing what the critic is saying”]

“Costolo is not a product guy,” George said. “He’s a consultant. He doesn’t really understand product the way a (Google founder) Larry Page or a (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg does.”

One could dismiss this as a rant from a publicity hound, except that George was a very successful businessman before becoming a Harvard academic. In other words, he commands a large audience, and even greater respect.

As a result, Costolo should probably take a long hard look at George’s criticism. Unfortunately, If Costolo is like many leaders I know, he will spend more time trying to discredit the critic rather than absorbing what he or she is saying.

I’m not saying it’s easy to determine the valid criticism from the social media trolls who don’t like anyone or anything. However, good leaders do listen to criticism from afar and, when warranted, take it to heart. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of leaders willing to do that.[Tweet “Learning from criticism coming from those outside your organization can make you a great leader.”]

Why do so many leaders find it hard to take outside criticism? In general, these are leaders who do not spend a lot of time analyzing or challenging their own performance. So, when an outsider raises concerns, these leaders are often stunned and dismissive.

All leaders need enough self-awareness to process outside criticism, identifying the valuable perspective that can come from someone who is not part of your organization. Learning from that kind of criticism can ultimately make you a better leader.

This week’s Gut Check asks: can you handle criticism from afar?

Join the conversation @VinceMolinaro

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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