One of the hardest things to do is sit through a meeting listening to ideas or thoughts that you don't agree with. It's even harder when the feedback is directed at you. When we are criticized, we have the tendency to build up walls, cross our arms, become angry, or choose to shut people down. Not being open to criticism, no matter how hard it is to hear, closes the door to change and self improvement. Truth is, there is a chance you might miss out on something big if you are not willing to listen to criticism. The more we openly and willingly welcome and accept critical feedback, the better leader we can become.
This doesn’t mean that every critic should be heard, and every criticism is something that you should listen to. However, if we choose to allow for criticism with an open mind, listen carefully to what is being said, and determine if what is being said is valid, then we have the potential of making changes that will have positive impacts. The key is to listen with an open mind. We are not always right, and our ideas are not always the best. However, if you do your job right as a leader, you will have a room full of creative, innovative thinkers that will help you process your ideas. This means that the people you surround yourself with should not be “Yes men.” They need to have different perspectives, different training, different ideas; they need to be different from you.
Having an open mind means you are willing to hear different perspectives. I will be the first to admit that I struggle with myself. As I continue to age and mature, I have learned the importance of listening before speaking, uncrossing my arms and be open to what others have to say, and reflect on what is being said. I still struggle, but I am definitely farther than I used to be. Changing who we are to become better can be just as painful as stubbing your toe. There are times when it hurts like the dickens, and then there are times that there is a chance you broke it. Sometimes we need to break ourselves in order to be built up better. Forcing yourself to have an open mind and accept critical feedback is one of these times.
Something that may help you take this step is to carry a notebook to meetings or presentations. When people start to give feedback, instead of getting frustrated or offended, write down what you are being told. Reflect on what you wrote down and determine how you could best utilize the feedback you were given to make your idea, presentation, or speech better. Having an open mind means you realize that other people have great ideas too.
Again, it doesn’t mean that every piece of feedback you receive is valid. The second part of having an open mind is being discerning. When you write down the feedback you are given, you need to discern if what was said is of value, beneficial, or if it is someone expressing a pessimistic point of view. Real feedback and criticism looks to help you think outside the box, encourage you to look beyond your own rose colored glasses, and make you think beyond your own initiative. When you surround yourself with creative, innovative thinkers, expect someone to have additions, corrections, or thoughts to add to your ideas. That is the beauty of surrounding yourself with a creative team.
The goal for leadership should never be the smartest person in the room or be the one with all the answers. The goal of leadership is to “help those who work under you to one day work beside you,” as Brad Lomenick says. So the next you present an initiative, idea, or policy be open minded to feedback. There is a chance you didn’t think of everything, and someone might provide positive insight to make your ideas even better. And instead of being at the head of the department or organization, maybe take a more teamwork approach and build up those who are under you by listening to what they have to say.