"Though bitter, good medicine cures illness. Though it may hurt, loyal criticism will have beneficial effects." ~Sima Qian

"If you have no critics you'll likely have no success." ~Malcolm Forbes

Criticism isn’t fun for any of us to take, we’d much rather sit down and listen to people give speeches about how great we are. But make no mistake, criticism is necessary for you to be a great leader. While praise is great fuel for our fire, the tough punch given by heartfelt criticism is like rocket fuel for the leader. Nobody likes to fall short and someone pointing it out to us holds us accountable and clarifies where we can improve. It is this clarity that balances the scales of our own “rose colored glasses” assessment we may defensively have.

It is important, though, to consider the source when listening to criticism. Feedback from the uninformed is of little value whether it be positive feedback or negative feedback, but more than that, you need to be wary of those who aren’t providing “heartfelt” criticism and instead are criticizing for more selfish reasons. Seeking or fielding criticism from those who don’t have the right motivations behind their insight can be incredibly demoralizing. And once that door has been opened you may find yourself on the receiving end of a steady stream of criticism both warranted and unwarranted.

For this reason, I use the following guidelines to ensure I am “Listening to critics and ignoring cynics”:

  • You hear both positive and negative from them – The cynic spews nothing but negativity all day. On the opposite hand, you hear plenty of positive and negative insight from the critic.
  • They like success – The cynic gets frustrated by success. The critic can’t wipe the smile off their face when there is success in the organization.
  • They care about the organization– The cynic doesn’t demonstrate a passion for much past the “bare minimum.” The critic cares deeply for the organization.
  • They are a team player – Cynics tend to be solitary. Critics seek out teammates and foster collaboration.
  • People look to them for help – Cynics are rarely the first choice for those needing help. Critics on the other hand occupy all of the top slots on the list of helpful people.

Now this isn’t to say that the cynic doesn’t have a valid point from time to time, it’s just you need to take their feedback with a “grain of salt” at minimum. The feedback from the critic, on the other hand, you can “take to the bank.” One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to SEEK criticism from others. Simply ask them where your department or organization is falling short or the areas that could use the most improvement. As you can probably guess, doing this with the cynic is far less productive than doing so with the critic.

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