How To Deal With Criticism

A lot can happen in a week. I was in Fiji last week spend­ing time delivering leader­ship training to some wonderful Fijian companies and there was one topic on people’s
10 Feb 2018 11:00
How To Deal With Criticism

A lot can happen in a week. I was in Fiji last week spend­ing time delivering leader­ship training to some wonderful Fijian companies and there was one topic on people’s mind, the Fly­ing Fiji’s 7s team.

At the beginning of the week the general comments were about a team that was underperforming af­ter a dismal showing in Australia.

There was a lot of criticism going around, the coach was under pres­sure and their was talk of a lack of leadership both on and off the pitch. Fast forward seven days and just as I was landing back in New Zealand the whole perception has changed.

Criticism had turned into praise as Fiji had just won the Hamilton sevens tournament, their first win of the 2017/18 World Rugby Sevens Series.

In sport there are many highs and lows which tend to come along quite close to each other.

The same is true in businesses that operate at a high level.

With high stakes come high pres­sure and a lot of scrutiny and this is a huge challenge for leaders. In this article

I will explore how a leader can handle the criticism coaster that comes with leading a team that is not performing to its potential.

Success is never a straight path

The first thing a leader needs to re­alise is that the pathway to success is never a straight line.

The only time I have ever seen people achieve success without any setbacks is when someone has set their goals too low.

Failure and success are not exclu­sive from each other, instead fail­ure is actually part of success and leaders can’t embrace success until they are willing to embrace failure.

If you look behind every success story you will see a series of fail­ures. Before Virgin became a lead­ing airline they failed miserably trying to break into the soft drinks market.

Before Beatrix Pitter sold 45 mil­lion copies of the Peter Rabbit Books she was rejected so many times that she had to publish the first 250 copies herself.

Before Oprah Winfrey became a global media celebrity she was sacked as a newsreader. Everyone encounters failure but what sepa­rates winners from losers is how they deal with failure.

The people who win are the ones who embrace failure and the criti­cism that comes with it, they look for the lessons that come with fail­ure and use those lessons to achieve long term success.

The most important quality of a leader is humility

As someone who’s job it is to im­prove the skills of Leaders I can tell you with a level of authority that one of the most valuable qualities that a leader needs to embrace is humility.

The most successful leaders are the ones who are confident in their own ability while having the humil­ity to recognise their own current limitations.

This means that they tend to view criticism as constructive feedback rather than an attack on their own ability.

One of the biggest obstacles to success is success itself and by that

I mean when things are going well there’s little motivation to become better. It’s more difficult to make a successful team better than it is to turn a poor team into a good team because motivation comes easy when times are tough and not so when things are going well.

If you look at sport there are many teams that have a successful year and find themselves unable to re­peat that success the following year.

It’s at the height of success that the best leaders look for further im­provements because their humility allows them to realise how much better the team and themselves can become.

Criticism is better than silence

If you gave me two teams where the first team has received criti­cism and there is some debate and even conflict with that team and the second team has no conflict whatso­ever and there’s no criticism and if you presented these two teams to me and asked me to predict which team would be more successful in the long term I would have no doubt in naming the first team.

The team which has been criti­cised is the team that will win in the long run.

Criticism if conducted with the right intent and with respect can be the best thing for a leader and their team.

When a team is performing at a high level the differences between them and their competitors can be minuscule and the difference be­tween winning and losing can be down to one decision so any advan­tage you can get can make a big dif­ference to your team which is why criticism if handled correctly can be essential.

Criticism is a sign of people car­ing, no one criticises something that they don’t care about and all successful leaders know that there’s always an element of truth within every criticism, you just need to find it.

Listen to criticism but don’t allow it to dominate your thoughts

It’s difficult not to allow other peo­ple’s comments about your work get to you.

No one goes to work wanting to do a poor job or to fail, it just happens sometimes and when we hear nega­tive comments they can hurt and they can dominate your thoughts when they shouldn’t do.

To be successful you have to listen to criticism but you don’t allow it to dominate you.

I recall a press conference with Ju­rgen Klopp who is the Manager of Liverpool football club. After a cou­ple of defeats the media were open­ly criticising the team and he was asked about how he was handling the criticism, his reply was that he was too busy working to focus on the criticism and he was aware of the comments and that people were entitled to say whatever they wanted but his job was to make the team better so he felt his time was better spent on working harder rather then focusing on negative comments.

It’s important to listen to other people’s comments no matter how hard they may hit because in those comments there may be valuable lessons to be learned.

Let let me share one key lesson that I’ve learned over many years of building my own business as well has helping teams from all around the world and that lesson is “work harder.”

This is the answer that will solve the majority of problems you will face as a leader so listen to criti­cism but never allow it to stop you working harder.

Receiving praise feels nice, it gives us a warm feeling yet while it’s what we want to hear it’s not al­ways what we need to hear.

To be successful we need to hear what we can do better and when that comes in the from criticism, as long as it’s conveyed with respect it can be a powerful factor in making positive changes.

I’m reminded of a quote that the American minister Norman Vin­cent Peele once said:

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism”

Mark Wager can be contacted at


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