“You’ve completely failed us.” This is what a friend of mine recently heard in a meeting with his team, where he was the manager when talking about how he has led the division through a merger. Would you be able to stand in front of 50+ people letting you know exactly how they felt about you and your leadership abilities, even if you yourself had tried to do everything right?
Hearing something like that hurts. No matter how seasoned a person is in a leadership position. But how you take criticism, however strong or ill-willed, is what defines you as a leader and as a person.
I, as many young men, had a real problem taking criticism when I was younger. I also had an inherent problem with authority. I was my own boss and no one could change that or tell me otherwise. Well, everyone except my mom.
My problems with authority were promptly fixed as I served in the Norwegian Armed Forces. Where you quickly learn the importance of listening to your superiors. They know more than you and are, for the most part, in a superior position for a reason.
But the turning point of accepting criticism came when I met an older colleague of mine early in my 20’s. He said:
If someone criticises you, its because they want to make you better. Stop and listen.
This really clicked, and I have to this day invited criticism as the only way to know if you are doing something right or wrong. Or even if what you are doing is really well, you should always strive to do it great!
Whoever heard of Alexander “The Average”?
Accepting your flaws and imperfections, and striving to better them is especially important when pursuing mastery of any martial art. I remember my coach slapping me on the side of the head because I couldn’t, for the love of god, keep my left hand up after multiple boxing combos. And to this day it is still something I’m working on. I have students that walk out of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu classes, after being submitted time after time without any progress. An exhausted feeling of hopelessness. It’s frustrating, but after a while, something happens. A spark goes off and you get it. You see it clearly. And you appreciate the hardships leading up to that moment.
I was proficient as a stand-up fighter, but in MMA, you must be a jack of all trades – where the ultimate goal is master of all. I went through 5 years of Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes with people much better than me. I think I submitted my training partners a total of 8 times those 5 years. A humbling experience to say the least. And it taught me a lot about appreciating the learning process, how to tackle wanting to give up and seeing the bigger picture.
They say BJJ is a douchebag filter, and I couldn’t agree more.
Learning that everything takes time to master and that you have to stay humble sets you apart from the herd. If you as a leader react in a defensive manner when called out, because you blame the higher-ups, or the process or some other bullshit excuse – even if this is actually the case – you’ll never be able to grow and learn. And most of all you will never become an inspiring leader. You will lead out of fear.
My friend did an amazing job taking the criticism he got dished out. He listened. Didn’t intervene. Let everyone speak their mind. Even encouraged it. He knew and acknowledged that a part of the solution to this particular problem, was that his employees felt he was susceptible to it and would take action because of it.
This does not only apply to business relationships. Next time your significant other offers some friendly advice (however harsh it is delivered) try to take it to heart, and become better. I promise you you’ll see an improvement in how you both treat each other.
When talking about taking criticism and rolling with the punches, there is no way I can’t leave you with a quote from Rocky Balboa:
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth, but you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”