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It's Only Upsetting If You Become Upset

Eleanor Roosevelt, a remarkable woman in many ways, is credited with saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” The quotation is purported to have arisen after a cabinet secretary gave a speech which was not attended by an important dignitary. Roosevelt was asked if she thought the cabinet secretary felt badly about the snub, and Roosevelt responded with something close to the above.

Understanding the import behind the above quotation is important for a leader. Many people will have no compunction about criticizing you about your leadership style, your decision making and even your dress. The more honorable of these folks will denigrate you to your face while the less honorable (and probably more prevalent) will do it behind your back. The implied message in all of these criticisms is that you are not living up to your responsibilities and many others could do a better job.

As most of us strive to do an excellent job and most of us prefer compliments to criticism, it is easy to despair when being criticized. However, it is important to remember that criticism, itself, cannot hurt you; however, your emotional response to that criticism can. Much like the tree falling in an empty forest affects no-one, criticism does not sting unless you both hear and internalize it.

Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother, recounted why his sister did not get upset with the criticism lobbed at her and her husband. Craig’s and Michelle’s parents taught them to ignore criticism from people who did not know them or their situation. Her parents taught her not to allow critics to affect her. By ignoring the critics, she thrived.

As a leader, you will make decisions that will upset people and you will do so on a regular basis. As a result, you have to become inured to criticism. A leader cannot let herself become upset by those who are upset with her. It may help to remind yourself that those criticizing you cannot see the whole picture like you can. You can also remind yourself that people will have different perspectives and that is fine. Their agendas might not be consistent with the mission you are upholding. Finally, remember that some people just like to complain. No leader will please them. However, to be a leader you need to make decisions.

This is not to suggest that a leader should not consider opposing viewpoints nor rethink certain decisions based on feedback. A good leader must. However, hearing and considering differing perspectives is far different than to allowing yourself to become upset by those responses.

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