C-suite executives are under tremendous pressure every day they are at work. More often than not, the last thing they want to hear is negative criticism about how they are doing something wrong.
However, this type of feedback is often precisely what leaders need—even if it isn’t what they want. They simply must learn how to turn this feedback into something beneficial for them and the organization.
How to Respond to Criticism
Many executives fresh in their roles don’t realize how much criticism they will face or from how many directions it may come. Business leaders might hear negativity all around them, from corporate board members criticizing company performances to Wall Street analysts offering harsh “sell” critiques on the company’s stock. But the difference between a successful leader and an unsuccessful one is how they react to this criticism.
Successful leaders will stand tall in the face of negative criticism, take it as a learning experience, and use it as an opportunity to improve themselves and their company. After all, the point of a startup company is to grow, and the only way to grow is through learning. Although it can hurt an executive’s feelings to hear something negative about the company they have worked so hard to build, they must use that as motivation to prove people wrong.
If an executive does not handle negative criticism properly, the results can be detrimental to the entire organization. Unfortunately, the tendency of humans is to surround themselves with like-minded individuals.
In the case of business leaders, this can lead to the creation of a particularly destructive echo chamber. As executives are surrounded by people whose goal is to protect them, rather than provide honest and constructive feedback, they are creating blind spots that could perpetuate toxicity in the workplace.
Taking and Listening to Employee Feedback
The best way for a business leader to run a workplace is to be receptive to feedback from employees at all levels. Ultimately, very few people know the practical needs of the business better than the people actually doing the work. Strategies like accepting anonymous feedback allow employees to voice their concerns and suggest improvements without fear of retribution.
Even so, business leaders must actually take this feedback seriously and apply it, rather than perpetuating a persona that tells others “I know better.” It can be easy for executives to think that, since they are in charge of the business, no one else knows how to run it better than they do. Doing so only invalidates valuable perspectives from employees who might have different, valuable experiences to pull from.
Being insincere about employee feedback can cause even more harm than if they had not been involved in the discussion at all. When a business leader touts an “employee-first” or “feedback-forward” culture but does not apply or listen to any of the feedback given by employees, the workforce will quickly become disillusioned with these false promises. The result is a drop in employee morale and the discouragement of general, useful feedback.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the fault of the C-suite executive as they have often been conditioned to think that this type of system is how things are meant to be. Many C-suite executives came through the ranks in a toxic environment that rewarded them for keeping their heads down and making the decisions their boss wants to hear—not necessarily what they need to hear. As such, however unintentionally, they perpetuate this cycle of workplace toxicity that fosters an environment not conducive to collaboration and creativity.
The instinct when one hears negative criticism is to get angry and defensive, but for a high-level business executive, this can be an extremely harmful habit. If an executive wants to lead their company successfully, they must learn how to harness this negative feedback and use it for something constructive. In doing so, negative energy can be turned into something more positive and helpful.