Criticism – Price of Leadership

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Njeri Muchunu

I am really truly blessed. I am a Coach, Speaker, Teacher and facilitator. In these many different roles I get to work closely with leaders and emerging leaders and help them get clarity on their Purpose. Through my work, I have had the opportunity to share my message on many platform’s.

While that sounds amazing, it doesn’t always go smoothly. I have run workshops and have been privileged to add value to Leaders. My presentations are usually well received. People reach out to me after the workshop to tell me how much value they derived from the session. However, due to our constant need to be better, we always request for oral and written feedback. People will say all sorts of things to you – your head is in the clouds, passionista, God squad, preachy preachy, come down to earth……and the list is endless. I can tell you the first time I heard any of these words, I was devastated.

Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid-by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” That was me in my early career before I learned how to deal with criticism.

To be an effective leader, one must put themselves out there far enough to be criticized. If you’re not far enough out, nobody will criticize you, and nobody will follow you. You must make a conscious choice to step up and live out of your comfort zone. Living outside of your comfort zone forces you to constantly push yourself. Leadership means having to deal with situations that are not pleasant (aka comfortable) such as firing people or asking people to take pay cuts in hard times.

Leadership can also be picking up a piece of trash in the parking lot on the way into the building.

I like to think of a leader as someone who voluntarily walks under a microscope and says, “Here I am, let me have it!” Your every move will be judged. If you are the leader of a company, everyone has an opinion on your decisions. If you are not at the top of an organization, many people will look to do their part and humble you when you make a questionable decision. This usually sounds like, “I told you you didn’t have to work that hard on that project,” or, “Why are you picking up trash? That’s gross, we have a cleaner for that.”

People want to stay on the same plane with others and it is hard for most people to see you rise above them. This is because your peers recognize the leadership in those actions that they will bring criticism your way. It is hard for many people to encourage others to shine, because they think they will be left in the dark.

As a Leader, expect criticism on the chin because it is going to happen more often than not. You have to be prepared to be resilient in uncomfortable situations and bounce back with honesty to your people. Nobody trusts or follows a liar, transparency in your daily operations are crucial. And above all else, do not compromise on your character or that criticism will tear you apart from the inside out. No leader lives a day without criticism and humility will never be more on trial than when criticism comes. In this world, it is almost impossible to stay away from judgment, criticism, and all-around negativity. Often times, it is the people we are closest to that cause us to lose sight of our goals or give up completely.

If there is someone doubting you, criticizing you, laughing at you, or judging your goals — good, that means they are big enough and worth fighting for. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t capable of doing something incredible with your life. Thank them for the criticism of your life because it sets you on a journey of self-examination, heart-searching and examination which then leads you into a deeper sense on your utter dependency on your Maker. Like Paul, seek the favour of God and not people. Be fearless in human judgement and remain conscious of the fact that you will stand before a Higher tribunal.

Over the time I have been Curating Leaders I’ve learnt quite a few things about handling the tough parts of the Leadership role and especially handling criticism. Afterall, I have put myself out there, what did I expect?

None of us likes to be criticised! However, the trick is to stop focusing on the hurt, and start looking at the feedback itself. Here is how I deal with it:

I believe that anyone who does anything will be criticized.

People who sit and observe are not criticized. People who stand and move are criticized. Whenever you step out in faith and do something to try to make a difference, you will be criticized. Criticism is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s an affirmation that you are actually making a difference which is causing ripple effects that make people question and criticize you.

I expect criticism

When you take a stand and stand out, everything about you is magnified, even your weaknesses. It’s almost always expected that anyone will receive criticism. The apostle John tells us to not be surprised, meaning we must always anticipate criticism when we do what we do.

I treat all criticism as opportunity

Every criticism we receive—well-meaning ones as well as malicious ones—will always contain a little something we can learn from. Criticisms are actually vital in leadership development and character building because it is in the heat of criticism that our hearts are most tested.

I learn from it

I’d be a fool to not pause, reflect and consider if there is truth within the criticism that might help me be a better leader, friend, wife, Christ-follower, etc… I will definitely inhale the criticism…but I don’t always swallow the criticism. I know I’ve got a lot to learn, and I want to be open to God’s Spirit speaking to me through others. There are many times I’ve thought, “I hate the tone that the uncaring person used, but the point is solid, and I was definitely wrong.”

I am okay being criticized for my beliefs, but try my best not to be criticized for my character.

As a leader there are times I will be criticized no matter how blameless I try to live my life. Criticism is a price of leadership. However, I must strive not to be criticized for my character. A man or woman of conviction will do things that others will not understand. Coupled with this conviction we must have Godliness. Godly and wise leaders will be able to avoid unnecessary conflict. The character and humility of Christ ought to permeate throughout our entire lives.

Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Do not be afraid of being misunderstood. Do not be afraid of being criticized. Anyone who wants to make a difference will be criticized by others. Follow your convictions and strive to be the best possible version of the Leader you were created to be.

Change is hard but leading change is even harder. Are you up for the challenge?

Feel free to contact us and we will be honoured to walk the leadership journey with you.

Njeri Muchunu is an impeccable, transformational and highly intuitive Leadership Curator. She is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She has extensive experience in the legal profession spanning well over 17 years. She has worked in private legal practice, as an executive in the Corporate sector as well as the Public sector. Her latest engagement was with Government of Kenya where she worked with the Central Bank of Kenya and the Financial Reporting Centre respectively.