President Harry S. Truman readily took responsibility for his decisions, and he was famous for saying, “The buck stops here.” Though his approval ratings were only 20-30% for much of his presidency, Truman didn’t waver. “I know the public is against me,” he’d say, “but they’ll come around.”
Truman entered the election year of 1948 as a vulnerable incumbent. Yet rather than shying away from thorny issues, he made two bold moves that generated fierce criticism: he backed the creation of the state of Israel and desegregated the military. Despite trailing in nearly every pre-election poll, Truman maintained hope and campaigned tirelessly around the country. On Election Day, newspapers were so certain of the outcome that they published headlines reporting Truman’s defeat. However, when the votes were actually counted, Truman emerged victorious. Historians consider his re-election the greatest upset in the history of the presidency.
The price of leadership is criticism. No one pays much attention to last place finishers, but when you’re in front, everything gets noticed. Since leaders live with criticism it is important to learn to handle it constructively. The following four-step process has helped me, so I wanted to pass it on to you.
1) Know Yourself
“Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.”
Over the years, people have tried to help me know myself. They often begin with the phrase, “I’m going to tell you something for your own good.” I’ve discovered that when they tell me something for my own good they never seem to have anything good to tell me! Yet, I have also realized that what I need to hear most is what I want to hear least. From those conversations I have learned much about myself.
• I am impatient.
• I am unrealistic about time and process.
• I don’t like to give a lot of effort to people’s emotional issues.
• I overestimate the ability of others.
• I assume too much.
• I want to delegate too quickly.
2) Change Yourself
Aldous Huxley said, “The truth that makes you free is for the most part, the truth we prefer not to hear.”
Here are the questions I ask to determine whether the criticism was constructive or destructive.
a) Who criticized me?
Criticism from a wise person is more valuable than the flattery of a fool.
b) How was the criticism given?
In my experience, the trustworthiest critics are those who give me the benefit of the doubt, attempting to see from my perspective before passing judgment.
c) Why was the criticism given?
This question helps me discern whether the criticism was given out of personal hurt or with the intention to help me grow.
Regardless of whether the criticism was legitimate or not, I have discovered that my attitude toward words I do not want to hear determines if I grow from criticism or groan beneath it. Therefore, I have determined to:
• Not be defensive when criticized
• Look for the morsel of truth within every criticism
• Make the necessary changes
• Take the high road.
3) Accept Yourself
“Real confidence comes from knowing and accepting yourself—your strengths and limitations—in contrast to depending on affirmation from others.”
~ Judith Bardwick
The opposite of courage isn’t fear; it’s conformity. The most exhausting and frustrating thing in life is to live trying to be someone else. If you worry about what people think of you, it’s because you have more confidence in their opinion than you have in your own.
4) Forget Yourself
“Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves. They shall never cease to be entertained.”
~ Chinese Proverb
While growing up, we spend a good deal of time worrying about what the world thinks of us. By the time we reach 60, we realize the world wasn’t paying much attention. Secure people forget themselves so they can focus on others. This allows them to be secure enough to take criticism and even to serve their critics.