Leaders always have enemies and critics – it comes with the turf. Leaders change the order of things and so, inevitably, there are winners and losers. Challenging of leadership decisions and directions is healthy and necessary. However, there are always people who choose the role of the persistent cynic, criticising leaders at every turn.
There are advantages to being the cynic: you can be lazy and don’t need to offer up workable solutions; you don’t have to worry about being wrong or disappointed; it’s hard to be held to account; and you can even become popular with the disillusioned and the uninformed.
At the extreme, cynics use ridicule as a strategy to undermine the credibility of leaders and proponents of fresh thinking. It is an effective technique to kill off new ideas and stifle innovation. Critics know that strong buy-in is rarely achieved if an audience feels uneasy with those leading a new initiative.
Today, we even see critics combing through an individual’s personal online history, searching for a statement or action of 2-3 decades past that might today be deemed as inappropriate by the politically correct set. ‘Gotcha’ they shout, as they mobilise their followers like a swarm of digitally-enabled wasps.
Such behaviour ignores that every good leader has made mistakes and learnt over their career and life experience.
These attitudes are bad enough on an individual level, but at an industry level, it’s toxic. In times when action is essential, cynicism creates a paralysing effect as leaders and their organisations become risk averse, creating a vicious cycle where fewer people want the top job.
The question is how can leaders respond to such corrosive critics? The first step is to ask who is giving the criticism – are they someone in the arena with you, taking risks and showing courage? If not, ignore their opinion as it tells you nothing about you and only tells you about the person giving the criticism.
Whether doing anything or doing nothing, leaders will have critics. Your opportunity then is to lead authentically and do what truly needs to be done.