Being able to receive criticism and use it to your advantage is one of the most important skills that a leader can have. In the workplace, this type of behavior shows employees that their opinions are valued and provides them with a great sense of belonging to the team. It also provides leaders with useful insights into what can be improved about their conduct and the company’s methods of operation. However, taking criticism is not always easy. To better learn how to constructively deal with criticism, we turned to the CEO of U.S. Money Reserve, Angela Roberts. The following insights, pulled from her experience, are useful for any leader seeking to improve their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of their organization at large.
Before examining her philosophy on criticism, let’s first look at the career path of Angela Roberts and how she’s benefited from her willingness to learn and adapt. This CEO took a rather unconventional path to her current position. Early on, faced with a need to earn an income for her family, she began working multiple entry-level jobs to make ends meet. She worked in several different corporations, including pharmacies and electrical companies. Though she had no formal education in these fields, she used her willingness to learn to become knowledgeable in the specifics of each company at which she worked.
We’re so excited that our CEO, Angela Koch, was featured on Forbes! Thank you, Angela, for continuously pushing us to grow both personally and professionally and creating such a supportive work environment. https://t.co/cSniHl5QgE
— U.S. Money Reserve (@USMoneyReserve) July 1, 2019
That willingness to accrue knowledge and change her workplace methods soon saw Roberts being promoted to positions of increasing responsibility. Her employers responded to her ability to institute simplified plans of action for seemingly complex processes. At one job, she was asked to take over a large-scale project to get a ranch’s cattle certified as non-hormone-treated. Though she was unfamiliar with the field, she dove into the work with the same passion as her other endeavors. This attitude carried over to her time at U.S. Money Reserve, where she was promoted into higher-level positions after her hiring, eventually culminating in her being named CEO.
Nature of Criticism
One of the key aspects of Roberts’ ascent to her current position is her ability to listen to constructive criticism and act on it in a way that makes those around her feel heard. This relates to a core element of her philosophy as a leader—making sure her employees feel empowered to make changes within the company. Though this comes in multiple forms, such as education on the company’s underlying practices, one of the key ways that Roberts accomplishes this is by creating a safe space for employees to be critical of leadership. Through that criticism, new best practices can emerge, and employees feel that they can participate in the company to a greater degree.
Of course, criticism can be a difficult thing to hear as a leader, especially when you’re already devoting so much of your energy toward accomplishing the company’s mission, so learning how to deal with criticism can be an important undertaking. The first component of this is an ability to distinguish between constructive and nonconstructive criticism. While many employees give feedback designed to improve a company, some will instead give feedback out of frustration. The ability to know which type of feedback is being given is a key part of knowing how to react to it.
Typically, constructive feedback is specific and actionable. It points to a single problem that can be shown to impede the workplace in a clearly demonstrable way. Nonconstructive feedback, however, is often general and doesn’t have roots in a specific issue. When criticism arises, a leader can check the level of specificity to see how constructive the feedback really is. If an employee is unable or unwilling to dive into specifics, their feedback may not be actionable and may instead need to be dealt with through other channels.
How to Listen
How one listens to an employee is also an important aspect of dealing with criticism. Not only does proper listening allow you to better understand what is being said, but it also communicates to the employee that their criticism is valid. According to Roberts, a leader’s ability to empower employees is highly correlated with the success of an organization’s endeavors. When a leader can show employees that their feedback is valued, it lets the employees know that their words have power and can influence the direction of the company in real and measurable ways.
A key way to improve your ability to listen is to make sure that you devote the entirety of your focus to an employee who is giving feedback. Someone in a leadership position inevitably has many different items tugging at their attention at one time. This can naturally lead to an urge to multitask, such as checking email or other communications during a meeting. Resisting this urge is productive, however, because it not only allows you to focus on one thing at a time, but it also communicates to employees that there is nothing competing for your attention when they are speaking.
The ability to truly listen also involves the skill of speaking when appropriate. This can be tricky for some to master because speaking too much when someone is communicating criticism can be detrimental to the process. Speaking out of turn, interrupting, or speaking without regard to how one is being perceived can all be actions that may paint a leader as defensive rather than open to learning from what an employee has to say. This defeats the point of talking to an employee in the first place and may even leave the situation worse than if the interaction had never taken place.
Conversely, if a leader speaks judiciously to reflect their understanding of criticism to an employee, the leader can improve their ability to listen and clearly show the employee that they are being heard. Repeating key elements of an employee’s feedback can be useful here, since it is something that would be impossible to do were you not listening. Saying something aloud also helps you retain information and can be an important aspect of being able to act on the information received down the line. Speaking up when you’re receiving criticism should be used sparsely, but it can be a powerful tool in improving your own effectiveness as a leader.
Criticism may not always have a goal attached to it; it may just be a negative issue that an employee has noticed. It is beneficial, however, for a leader receiving criticism to try to steer feedback toward a goal whenever possible. By doing so, both parties involved can fully understand next steps and what can be done to ensure that the feedback is acted upon in a complete manner. Leaving a feedback session with a goal-oriented plan can be useful in making sure that the feedback is dealt with and the employee feels heard.
According to this CEO, asking questions while receiving constructive criticism can be a helpful part of steering the criticism toward a goal. This can be accomplished through questions that help hone the criticism to its most central idea. It can also be helpful to ask employees for suggestions on how to solve the issue at hand, further empowering them in the organization and allowing the problem-solving process to be a collaborative one. When used appropriately, questions along these lines can be powerful tools toward maximizing your leadership potential.
The above look at accepting criticism is meant as a quick overview of the considerations that go into hearing feedback from employees and reacting appropriately. As the CEO of U.S. Money Reserve has shown, the ability of a leader to take criticism is perhaps one of the most important predictors of company-wide success. Employees who are heard while giving feedback are more likely to feel they are contributing members of their company. Employees’ unique perspectives, along with their increased loyalty to their organization, can be a boon to any leader seeking to maximize chances for success.
About U.S. Money Reserve
U.S. Money Reserve is a precious metals company focused on helping customers find security and personal financial freedom. The company’s president, Philip N. Diehl, previously served as the director of the U.S. Mint and brings a unique perspective concerning the interplay between public policy and matters of personal wealth. Thanks in part to his influence and the work of the rest of the leadership team, the company’s account executives are widely known for helping customers purchase assets to meet unique portfolio needs.
Read our previous U.S. Money Reserve feature: http://positivethefacts.com/2018/09/u-s-money-reserve-economic-hit-lira/