Strong leaders don't shy away from criticism. In fact, they respect their critics and haters more than most people do. For instance: Last year Jeff Bezos tweeted a picture of an old magazine cover predicting Amazon's demise, with this response:
Listen and be open, but don't let anybody tell you who you are. This was just one of the many stories telling us all the ways we were going to fail. Today, Amazon is one of the world's most successful companies and has revolutionized two entirely different industries.
Constantly seek criticism. A well-thought-out critique of whatever you're doing is as valuable as gold and you should seek that from everyone you can but particularly your friends.... Basically, you should take the approach that you're wrong. That you, the entrepreneur, are wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.
Why is criticism so valuable? Here's my take on it...
We all love praise, but praise doesn't always make us grow.
Criticism though? That's a kick in the butt. That will wake you right up and shake you out of laziness. Criticism also offers you a different view on things -- one that you might have missed or ignored.
Does it hurt being criticized? Sure. But you know what hurts more than that? Not growing as a leader/entrepreneur. Because you can't handle reality. As fellow Inc. columnist Justin Bariso wrote: "[Criticism] is often rooted in truth -- even when it's not delivered in an ideal manner."
Now, how do you actually grow from criticism?
Based on what Bezos and Musk have said, and what I've done as a leader over the last two decades, here's what I recommend you doing:
1. Seek out criticism from multiple sources.
Apart from your employees and customers, you should also consult experts and other great companies that you can learn from. From my experience, these are the most valuable sources when it comes to seeing holes and opportunities in your business. Here are a few questions you could ask:
Where do you think we are strong and weak?
What opportunities in the marketplace do you think we're missing?
What's going on outside that could take our company out if we don't recognize it and take steps to prevent it?"
You can even turn compliments into an opportunity to get constructive feedback. I'd say something like, "That's great -- thank you. Now, give me some honest feedback...."
2. Listen openly without defending yourself.
Listen, ask follow-up questions, and make sure that you see where the critic is coming from. (In other words, keep your mouth shut and your ears open.)
Then thank them for the feedback and suggestions. After all, they took the time to think about you and your business and what you could improve. They deserve the recognition.
3. If the criticism makes sense, change.
Take responsibility. If you did screw up, just learn and course correct. There's no shame in doing so. Spend some time to reflect, too, so that you remember what to improve next time.
4. If the criticism doesn't make sense, take that as motivation.
There's no need to fight back. You will just waste your time and even escalate the conflict. Just turn whatever they said into energy for you to keep working hard. Stick to your vision, so that you can win and prove them wrong. I love what Bezos said here:
If you decide, by the way, that the answer is no [to changing]...then no force in the world should be able to move you.
This is why I keep my critics and haters close. I can't tell you how much it pushes me when people tell me that I suck. It pushes me to be the best leader and human being every single day.
To those critics, here's what I have to say:
"Thank you so much, I appreciate you. Keep hating. And I will see you on the top."