How to Receive Criticism without Becoming Cynical

Leaders are criticized when they take action and when they don’t.

Nice critics try to help by pointing out failures and faults, but neglect positive suggestions.

Tearing down makes nasty critics feel wise, powerful, and right.

the hardest criticism


The hardest criticism to take is the one that’s partly right. Most are partly right.

Criticism touches who you are, not detached behaviors, when you’re an authentic leader.

5 dangers of criticism:

  1. Losing yourself. Critics want you to be like them. When you act and think like them, they love you. Strong personalities want you to take the bull by the horns, for example, as long as it’s not their horns.
  2. Isolation.
  3. Self-justification.
  4. Bitterness.
  5. Revenge.

Transforming criticism:

Pain from criticism, just or unjust, transforms leaders.

Dedicate yourself to growth and development.

Criticism, even done poorly, transforms leaders. The sting of criticism given years ago still clings to me, for example. Those moments change me. Most often, they humble me.

Preventing criticism:

Some criticism is preventable.

Engage people early and often. Avoid isolation. It’s difficult to criticize the plan you had a hand in making.

Choose teammates carefully. Don’t give persistent critics a seat at the table. I’ve seen leaders try to silence critics by elevating them. Typically, this strategy fails.

Inviting criticism:

Criticism is desirable and useful, even if it stings.

When you ask some teammates how to be better, they’ll tell you what’s wrong. Take criticism to a useful place by asking:

  1. What do you suggest?
  2. How can I be better?
  3. What do you want?

Implement useful suggestions from critics quickly and publicly. Be known as a leader who learns and grows.


“Thank you,” points criticism toward useful ends.

How might leaders receive criticism without becoming cynical?

What are some useful ways to handle being criticized?