Is Your Fear of Criticism Holding You Back?

There are many things that hold us back on our path toward personal and professional growth. Whether you’re newly managing people at your company or eager to start your own business, there will be aspects of your personality that get in the way of your success and leadership development.

One of the greatest fears of leaders is criticism. Ironically enough, the ability to accept criticism gracefully is an essential leadership attribute. Beyond that, you must know that the further along you go in achieving your life goals, the more likely you are to face tough criticism from your team, your family, your friends and your superiors. John Maxwell wrote very poignantly about the role of criticism in leadership, underscoring its inevitability. As Maxwell explains, the price of leadership is criticism, because no one pays attention to the people who don’t make it to the top.

If you’re going to succeed, you simply cannot avoid criticism. As a leader you are vulnerable to criticism from the media, experts in your field, competitors and the people you work with every day. As a result, the only real way to cope with criticism is to embrace it with enthusiasm.

Rather than being defensive, embrace criticism with enthusiasm.

Criticism: An essential ingredient for success

No business can run successfully without criticism. The same applies to your own growth as a leader and as a human being in general. If you’re not sure how crucial criticism is to your success, consider the following reasons to be more open to it:

  • Criticism can hold you accountable for your mistakes, even when you don’t realize you’ve made them.
  • Feedback, when shared constructively, can help launch you to the next phase in your career by making you aware of important and necessary improvements.
  • Leaders who accept criticism are better equipped to foster open dialogue in their businesses.
  • Criticism is an opportunity to see a new perspective and gain insight that can be leveraged later on.
  • Even the worst criticism can be used to avoid making similar mistakes in leadership positions or business pursuits in the future.
  • By accepting feedback gracefully, you will be more respected by the people you engage with.
  • Leaders who absorb feedback and criticism and act accordingly are trusted more by their teams and superiors.

Accepting criticism simply isn’t optional. If you want to be successful, you have to be open to feedback and embrace criticism as an opportunity, not a failure.

Humility is at the root of everything

Ultimately, the ability to accept criticism and respond to constructive feedback is rooted in a deep sense of humility. And humility is an admirable, necessary quality of any great leader. TechCrunch cited research from the January 2014 issues of Administrative Science Quarterly, which found that managers who exuded humility by accepting feedback and anticipating the needs of others fostered better employee engagement and improved job performance.

Leaders who are willing to accept criticism are better at leading altogether. The most important thing is to strike a healthy balance between being firm in your decisions and confident in your leadership style, while simultaneously remaining humble in how you listen to people’s opinions of you. The more you receive criticism, the more opportunities you have to show your excellent leadership skills by embracing the feedback and accepting it with humility. In effect, criticism and the way you handle it is a source of your ultimate success.

“Ultimately, the ability to accept criticism and respond to constructive feedback is rooted in a deep sense of humility.”

A fear that can be overcome

Despite its importance, it is quite natural to fear the inevitable criticism you will face as you advance in your career. The important thing is to find ways to cope and overcome this fear, anticipating that criticism is just a single decision or mistake away. The following strategies will help you overcome your fear of and cope with criticism as a leader:

  • Have a support system: The best way to cope with the feelings that result from harsh criticism is to turn to your support system. Whether it’s a business coach, your mentor or your friend, your ability to tap into your support system will not only mitigate your fear of criticism, but help you cope once it happens.
  • Believe in your higher purpose: If you are confident in the role you play at your organization, your value to your peers and the trust you’ve built with your superiors, you will be better equipped to handle criticism. With the right attitude, it’s easy to realize that criticism isn’t the end of the world.
  • Be self-aware: Self-awareness is an important leadership quality for a variety of reasons, especially when it comes to handling criticism. If you’re self-aware, you can easily avoid or anticipate the criticism you will receive. Additionally, your self-awareness and willingness to look inward will help you listen to feedback in a constructive rather than defensive manner.
  • Practice: It may sound strange, but the best way to overcome your fear of criticism is to practice. For example, a person who wants to overcome their fear of heights may practice climbing a rock-climbing wall until they are more comfortable. Embrace criticisms as opportunities to practice how you handle them.

Criticism doesn’t stand in the way of your growth, but your fear of it certainly does. Criticism is a healthy part of personal development, and embracing it is a key to your success.


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