As a leader, you have probably faced those moments when your critics challenge you to the core.

These are the times when everything you implement feels scrutinized without mercy. Nothing you do and no matter how hard you work makes a difference and people manage to find the flaws. It feels as if they’re intentionally sabotaging your work, your mission, and your purpose.

In these moments you’re being tested. How you respond to this pressure will set the stage for your success or lack thereof.

No matter who your critics are—employees, other organizations, or the community—here’s how you can turn them into your allies.

Take Control of Your Emotions

If you’re feeling discouraged, frustrated, fearful, or angry about your leadership being criticized, you’re not alone. These are natural human reactions to feeling attacked. However, how you react when negative emotions strike is within your control and will set you up for either success or failure.

When you dwell on the negative emotions and the thoughts that feed them, you give up control. You give power to your emotions, which can cloud your judgment and take you on a downward spiral.

So, when you feel attacked by your critics, take a step back, acknowledge your feelings, and take control of your thoughts and emotions.

Don’t read into people’s intentions. While it may feel like they’re just trying to make things difficult for you, this may not be the case. They may merely have other needs, goals, and priorities. You won’t know unless you ask them.

Leverage Your Critics’ Potential

Your critics can be some of your best resources.

They have perspectives, needs, priorities, and values. They also have opinions and ideas about how you could do things differently and perhaps better. You can cash in on this.

Your critics are passionate and will find an outlet to vent about the way you’re running things. So, why not create this outlet for them and leverage their energy to your advantage?

Acknowledge the voice of your critics and give them a seat at your table. You’ll win them over and turn them into your allies.

Sylvia Melena

I’m not talking about winning over your critics on the surface so they “feel” heard and valued. I’m talking about being genuine and truly capitalizing on their diversity, knowledge, and talent. I’m talking about viewing them as stakeholders instead of critics.

Engage Your Stakeholders

Embracing your stakeholders’ ideas and input as you implement solutions to your organization’s problems gives them a vested interest in your success. They now have skin in the game. Your win is their win. Your loss is their loss.

This newfound stakeholder ownership advances your work, your mission, and your purpose in a productive and rewarding way. It leaves you energized instead of drained.

Here are some tips on how to engage your stakeholders:

  1. Invite Them to Share Their Perspective – Before you implement major changes or solutions, ask for their input as part of the planning process. While it’s tempting to use an electronic survey or email, resist this urge. Yes, it’s faster, easier, and more convenient. However, depending on how entrenched your stakeholders’ concerns are, this may not be effective. Your goal is to establish strong working relationships with them, and building these relationships takes time, energy, and effort. You can still leverage technology, but engage them in two-way, real-time conversation. If the issues are contentious, reading body language will be extremely important. If possible, opt for an in-person meeting; it will help you turn contention into collaboration.
  2. Facilitate a Stakeholder Meeting – Have an agenda. Share your vision for a better future and ask them to add to that vision. Discuss the challenges your organization is facing and request their assistance in navigating the course. Make this meeting interactive and engaging. Consider bringing in a neutral facilitator to lead a brainstorming session and record stakeholder recommendations. During the meeting, don’t give your opinions about feasibility. Let participants know you’ll evaluate the information, determine what can be implemented, and provide them with an update at a later date. By not dismissing people’s opinions during the meeting, you demonstrate you value them.
  3. Evaluate Their Recommendations – Consider all ideas and remain open to possibilities. If the recommendation is sound and there’s an implementation barrier, explore what you can do to remove it. Can the obstacle be tackled immediately, or does it require extensive actions? Vet your ideas through appropriate internal and external channels.
  4. Develop and Execute a Plan – Map out an action plan with short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals and milestones. If you have limited organizational resources, consider whether or not it would be appropriate to ask your stakeholders to volunteer their assistance. Asking them to roll up their sleeves to help execute taps into their energy and strengthens their commitment to your organization’s success.
  5. Follow Through and Follow Up – Do what you commit to doing. Provide stakeholders with consistent status updates. Continue to engage them as you advance your plan, embark on new projects, and celebrate your wins.

When people criticize how you’re doing business, tap into their passion, energy, and creativity to elevate your organization’s performance. By doing so, you’ll turn them into allies that will champion your cause and help you fulfill your work, your mission, and your purpose.

SYLVIA MELENA is the Founder and CEO of Melena Consulting Group and the award-winning author of Supportive Accountability: How to Inspire People and Improve Performance.

Supportive Accountability Leadership™

Sylvia is also the architect of the Supportive Accountability Leadership™ Model, a simple but powerful framework that helps leaders engage employees, promote accountability, and boost performance.

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