One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from one of my former CEOs. I had just been through a particularly rough patch where my colleagues were beginning to criticize my work. To cut them some slack, it was a very difficult time for them as there was a global reorganization underway.
A leadership retreat was held in Amsterdam to bring current and potential leaders together mid-way through a three-year reorganization. The intent was to reinforce the idea that their behavior, and attitude towards these changes, would make or break the reorganization.
In times of stress people will look for a scapegoat.
Unfortunately for me, I was the scapegoat. Everything was communications’ fault. I am sure you have also heard this at least once in your career and probably more than once. This went on for several days until the CEO brought them together to conclude and said, “the problem is not big ‘C’ it is little ‘c’ – meaning all of you.” “You need to communicate with authenticity around these changes and use what big ‘C’ (communications) is providing you.”
Several weeks later, the CEO came to our offices in New York and took me to lunch with my director. As he was talking about sailing off the coast of Maryland, he suddenly turned to me and said, “I am pleased with your work – that whole episode was about them and their lack of communication with their staff, it was not about you.” He went on, “But you need to understand that being a leader means that most of the time you will be criticized and you need to get comfortable with that.” Basically, keep to your true north despite a patch of turbulent waves.
I sat back, thanked him, and then thought what a revelation. Until that point, I had only received positive responses and expected, probably like most of us do, when we watch a leader give a speech or be interviewed on television that it must be great to finally reach that point of respect and recognition, that no one can really touch you. Alas, watch any head of state and you will see how much daily criticism they receive – they seldom receive praise. It is only long after the fact that they receive recognition for their work.
As a leader or when you become a leader, remember to keep to your true north no matter if everyone – including your partner, your family and your close friends – disagree with you. You may be changing the dynamic and not many of us enjoy changes.