If you are a leader, you will encounter criticism.

The trick is knowing how to sift and sort the gems from the gremlins. Being able to discern what and whom to ‘dig’ – and what and whom to ‘ditch’.

As you scale the organisational ladder, it’s likely you will receive less challenging feedback. Although your ego may disagree, this is not necessarily a good thing!

The best leaders seek out criticism – of their approaches, ideas and style. Even when it’s not easy to hear.

[See here for tips on how to get others to be more honest with you.]

Here are 4 tips for dealing with criticism:

1. Decipher the vibe behind the comment.

Is this coming from somebody whose opinion you respect?

Are their comments coming from a good place (even if it may not be delivered in a skilled way)?

Is the criticism constructive and/or specific?

If you are really honest with yourself, do the critical comments resonate as kinda true on some deeper level?

Even though I don’t personally know Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell, if he was to give me some ‘constructive criticism’ about my blog, I’d take it on board with a big, gushy, Kiwi THANK YOU.

If my good friend (and the other half of The Leaders Digest), Amy Cunningham, told me to pull my head in ‘cos I was acting like a self-centred drama queen (which she has done on the odd occasion BTW) I would definitely take note!

On the other hand, there is a difference between useful, challenging feedback versus plain slagging off or empty, useless comments.

Leaders I have coached, who are in high-profile or public roles, will tell you that “trolls” come in many guises. There are people on this earth who have nothing better to do than release their own frustrations through destructive vents on your ass.

So, if it’s just “you suck” (in one form or another), leave that crap behind.

If it’s “that sucks and here’s why”, try to find the diamond in the rough (hint: there is usually a gem to be mined).

2. Be aware of your own emotions as you respond to said criticism – and if possible, put some distance between your immediate reaction and your response. Criticism can hurt. It can trigger all manner of nasty memories, like messages from parents or people in authority when you were a kid. This can make your response to the criticism a tad over-reactionary.

Accept that criticism will probably sting.

If you have a strong emotional response, STEP AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD. Or, if you are face-to-face with the person delivering the criticism, take a few deep breaths.

The worst thing you can do is to bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t be THAT guy.

3. Actively SEEK OUT criticism. I’m currently plucking up the courage to send my first e-book to a couple of people who are experts in this area for their honest opinion. They might come back with “it’s shit”.  But I’d rather know their opinion, make changes as a consequence and get a better end result.

How often do you actively seek out constructive criticism? Not often?
Then make like a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? contestant and phone a friend for their ideas.

4. Discern the naysayers from the personal cheerleaders.  Stay committed to your dream, however unrealistic it might seem right now.

There’s a BIG difference between someone saying “you’ll never achieve xyz” or “it can’t be done” and more helpful criticism, such as – “this needs more work and refinement….and I believe in you.”

All of Bob Marley’s first recordings were commercial failures. He was told he had no talent by more than one naysayer. And see here for just several people who believed in their dream and continued to follow it, despite facing a crowd of naysayers.

Some of the most successful people on our planet – the most inspirational leaders in business, politics and the arts – have encountered flack, ridicule and even hatred in their journey to greatness. Enough to make even the hardiest Phoenix wonder whether it’s worth rising from the ashes again.

But they did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, treat criticism a bit like burpees. Or distasteful medicine. Or brussels sprouts. Not necessarily pleasant at the time. But essential fuel in your journey to becoming a better leader.

What tips do you have for dealing with criticism? I’d love to hear from you – please leave your comments below.