Consider this: Your boss\u2019s face draws a blank,\n\ncolor rises to the cheeks and hardens into a firm look. If such\n\nexpressions could harm, you\u2019d be in the ER. But you would have plenty\n\nof company because you are one of the many thousands of brave souls who\n\nhave given, or attempted to give, their boss a critique. It could have\n\nbeen about his way of addressing the team, or it may have been about\n\nher way of managing a project without input. Regardless the criticism\n\nwas not taken well. And so there you are left in the glare of the\n\nmoment wondering if you will still have a job come next morning. \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n Listening Up\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nAccepting criticism is an essential leadership trait yet too many of\n\nour leaders in high places, be it team leader, head coach or CEO, do\n\nnot seem to take it well. Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina,\n\nis a case in point. Had she been willing to listen to her team instead\n\nof firing them, she might have cultivated the support she needed to\n\nlead the company. But when HP\u2019s business took a turn for the worse,\n\nFiorina found that there was no one following her. \n\nWhile many in senior leadership positions do acknowledge the virtue of\n\nhonest criticism, they bristle when that critique comes from those\n\nsubordinate in rank. The boss\u2019s attitude is \u201chow dare she speak to me\n\nlike that?\u201d Well, truth be told, the question should be, \u201chow dare she not speak that way?\u201d Criticism rooted in fact about the business or about the management of that business is appropriate. \n\n\n\n\n\nSince honest feedback is essential to running any organization. It\n\nshould be cultivated so that employees feel free to critique their\n\nhigher ups. And in turn, those higher ups should feel comfortable\n\naccepting such criticism. Giving criticism to a boss requires the\n\nvelvet glove treatment. \n\n\n\nHere are some suggestions for giving and receiving criticism.\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nKnow your facts. If you are going to criticize your boss, you\u2019d\n\nbetter be right. John Boyd, the legendary fighter-pilot instructor who\n\nnot only taught new ways to fight but also contributed to the\n\ndevelopment of new generations of aircraft, was a relentless critic. It\n\ncost him his career but he made his points because his facts were\n\nstraight. This approach also applies to coaching advice. For example,\n\nif you have a boss who\u2019s heavy handed with subordinates in meetings,\n\ncutting them off before they can make their points, it is acceptable to\n\ncriticize. Do not say \u201cyou\u2019re being mean.\u201d Focus instead on what the\n\nboss is doing wrong and how it is affecting the performance of others.\n\nYou may need to cite specific incidents, e.g., a staff meeting or a\n\nproject review. Results are what count and coaching should be developed\n\nto bring about better results.\n\n\n\n\n\nTake it in stride. Rolling with the punches is not an admission\n\nthat your critics are right; it is statement that you understand that\n\npeople will disagree with you. Those in leadership need to listen to\n\ntheir critics, but be strong enough not to retaliate in kind. Leaders\n\nhave the right, even the duty, to defend themselves, but not to the\n\nextent that they discredit their opponents. Edward R. Murrow\u2019s investigation of Senator Joseph McCarthy\u2019s pursuit\n\nof communists in government is one such case study. Murrow, a legendary\n\njournalist for CBS News, made the case that McCarthy regularly and\n\nruthlessly made scurrilous accusations against anyone he deemed might\n\nbe pro communist. McCarthy\u2019s red baiting investigations ruined many\n\nlives needlessly. This story is told with verve and passion in the new\n\nfilm written and directed by George Clooney, Good Night and Good Luck.\n\nIn responding to Murrow\u2019s charges, McCarthy did not argue the merits of\n\nMurrow\u2019s investigation. Rather McCarthy accused Murrow himself of being\n\na communist. Murrow stood by his story and deflected all personal\n\nattacks with facts not vitriol. Murrow did not crawl into the gutter\n\nwith McCarthy; he stayed on the high side of the road. Months later,\n\nMcCarthy self destructed on national television during the Senate\u2019s own\n\nhearings into McCarthy\u2019s accusations of communist influence in the U.S.\n\nArmy. \n\n\n\nChill then act. When you receive criticism, take a deep breath\n\nand thank the person who gave it. Yes, thank him. You may not agree, or\n\nyou may need to think about it, but you should commend the individual\n\nfor standing up and speaking his mind. Your reaction will set the tone\n\nfor what happens next. If you lash out, that will be the last criticism\n\nyou ever hear. That might assuage your ego, but you may risk running\n\nyour department or your organization into the ground because you won\u2019t\n\nhave all the facts. If you reflect and then act you will demonstrate a\n\ndegree of leadership that engenders respect. \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n Learning From It\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nAs important as criticism is, there are moments when an employee should\n\nhold fire. For example, during times of crisis, such as a failed\n\nproduct launch or the sudden departure of a key executive, it is not\n\nadvisable to lay on the critiques. Wait for an opportune moment and\n\nthen deliver. That said, tough times call for tough actions and leaders\n\nneed to receive straight talk from their people, even when that talk\n\nverves into their own shortcomings. Bravery is required to stand and deliver\n\nsomething other than flattery to the boss. It is a myth to think that\n\nresponsibility lies solely with the person at the top. While the\n\npassage of Sarbannes Oxley reform act makes those at the top criminally\n\nliable for corporate misdeeds, it is up to everyone in the organization\n\nto share in that role. Such responsibility is not reserved only for\n\navoiding wrongdoing. More often it is about \u201cright-doing,\u201d that is,\n\ngiving your boss the straight story on why a project failed or what can\n\nbe done to improve a process or even how to improve team and individual\n\nperformance. \n\nLeaders need input from everyone on the team. Those who accept\n\ncriticism are those leaders who not only achieve results they want;\n\nthey also improve their own prospects for advancement. They position\n\nthemselves as people who can learn from mistakes and take action.\n\nWhat\u2019s more, their behavior over time creates a culture where others up\n\nand down the organization feel empowered to offer criticism that is\n\nbased in fact and intended for improvement rather than denigration.