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Leadership Thought #465 – Everyone Is A Critic

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.

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Song of the Day: “My Thanksgiving” by Don Henley

Don Henley is one of those rare artists who has achieved huge success as part of a band – The Eagles, and as a solo artist.  He is truly blessed with exceptional talent.  While the music is always good, I’ve found it to be more of a backdrop of what he wants to communicate.  Very few artists write lyrics that are this thoughtful and deep.  It also usually easy to hear and understand what he is saying which is an underappreciated talent especially from someone who is obviously so well read and intelligent.

Don has always come across to me as a serious and intense man who uses his art as a platform to provide social commentary and navigate the complexities of life.  Sometimes he borders on the cynical, yet he is also capable of providing hope and inspiration through his music.   When I first heard this particular song, “My Thanksgiving,” I was impressed by how it was structured. It appears to start out as a conversation with a long lost close friend (possibly as an attempt at reconciliation) and ends as an inner dialogue with himself about certain life lessons and his many blessings.  There is the overall sense of a man finally coming to grips with his place in life and the wisdom and perspective gained through aging and experience.  I felt the lyrics were worth sharing:

A lot of things have happened
Since the last time we spoke
Some of them are funny
Some of ’em ain’t no joke
And I trust you will forgive me
If I lay it on the line
I always thought you were a friend of mine

Sometimes I think about you
I wonder how you’re doing now
And what you’re going through

The last time I saw you
We were playing with fire
We were loaded with passion
And a burning desire
For every breath, for every day of living
And this is my Thanksgiving

Now the trouble with you and me, my friend
Is the trouble with this nation
Too many blessings, too little appreciation
And I know that kind of notion—well, it just ain’t cool
So send me back to Sunday school
Because I’m tired of waiting for reason to arrive
It’s too long we’ve been living
These unexamined lives

I’ve got great expectations
I’ve got family and friends
I’ve got satisfying work
I’ve got a back that bends
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Have you noticed that an angry man
Can only get so far
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be
With the way things are

Here in this fragmented world, I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege
Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge

And I don’t mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I’m welcoming the fall
For every moment of joy
Every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

For everyone who helped me start
And for everything that broke my heart
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Song of the Day: “Maybe There’s A World” by Yusuf Islam

Yusuf Islam formerly Cat Stevens has written some powerful songs through the years.  There has been alot of unfair criticism of his religious beliefs.  Anyone who has listened to his music knows that he is a thoughtful and peace loving man.  In addition at the peak of his fame in the mid 1970s, he left popular music and dedicated himself to building schools for underprivileged youth.  It was only within the last decade that he recommenced his music career.  His songwriting talent was missed and it’s nice to have him back.

This particular song, “Maybe There’s A World,” is off the excellent album Another Cup. It is a beautiful song and the lyrics speak for themselves.  The video intro is in German but it is quite brief.  Like all great songs they connect personally but also resonate at a higher level.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with his later work I highly encourage you to check it out.

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