When you lead others, everyone is a critic to some degree. It’s next to impossible to be fully aligned with another person 100% of the time. As a leader, knowing this, you can’t fall into the trap of listening to every dissenting voice. The path to mediocrity is littered with individuals who gave up their leadership power unnecessarily and allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the opinions of others. This doesn’t mean you avoid soliciting feedback, quite the contrary, but you need to be able to filter this feedback and trust your own judgment. The world looks much different when you are actually accountable for your decisions. It’s easy to be an expert when you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
You can’t browse the internet, pick-up a newspaper, watch TV or listen to radio without being bombarded by the opinions of so called experts. In an office environment, you can multiply this by the number of one-off conversations that take place during the course of any given day. In my line of work, I’ve encountered many middle managers, stuck in their careers, who often believe they are the brightest person in the room. While they may in fact be highly intelligent (not always the case), they often lack the true courage of their convictions. It is much easier to be an expert on the sidelines or in the stands than run the risk of actually competing on the field. It takes minimal energy to snipe behind someone’s back as opposed to thoughtfully advocating for your position and effectively dealing with alternative points of view.
This morning I listened or read many different opinions on how President Obama should deal with Russia’s incursion into the Crimea. Of course, many of these people aren’t foreign policy experts or have any real inside understanding of the current geopolitical power dynamics involved. Have you every noticed that most talking heads haven’t actually ever run anything or achieved any significant level of significant professional accomplishment in the field they are commenting on? They often stalled within the system they are now commenting on. Even worse are the journalists/media personalities who wax and wane on every topic as they are actually qualified to do so. They never miss an opportunity to stir up discontent and/or tell us everything wrong with what the leader or institution in question is doing. Rarely, if ever, do they provide a thoughtful or realistic alternative. If you are not accountable you can say anything. We, the public, love this because it validates our own predisposition to form strong opinions without the facts or a selective understanding of only the facts that support our own often ideological position. Thinking before acting is hard work and many of us prefer shortcuts instead.
Don’t get me wrong; some level of criticism is healthy. No one is above reproach especially in a free and democratic society. Weak leaders crush dissent. They feel threatened when someone disagrees with them. Just look at Putin. To confuse his weakness with strength is a mistake. Leaders should welcome different opinions and perspectives. Feedback is essential for innovation and growth. However, leaders also need to be able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones; the informed thoughts from the misinformed ones; those positions that have the best interest of the organization/institution at heart versus those are personally motivated. Making the right decision isn’t always easy. Standing your ground in the face of opposition will test your professional mettle. Everyone is a critic. But also remember, that only a much smaller number of us ever risk the criticism in the first place.
Filed under: Business, Miscellaneous, Your Actions, Your Decisions, Your Leadership Role | Tagged: accountable, courage, criticism, facts, feedback, leadership, opinions, shortcuts, thinking, thoughtful | 1 Comment »