Criticism in Leadership: You’re Doing It Wrong If You’re Not Being Criticized

To be an effective leader, one must put themselves out there far enough to be criticized. If you’re not far enough out, nobody will criticize you, and nobody will follow you.

I noticed this phenomenon a few years ago. Contrasting two people in the same office: the office manager could do anything they wanted (excellent or useless) and they would receive little criticism over it.

On the other hand, one of the same people in the office happened to be a leader of the organization. Their every move was scrutinized, down to the time of their arrival (even if it was early they were “showing off” that day). Not everyone could see this as objectively as I could back then, but I want to shed some light on the reasons for this today. Criticism in leadership go hand in hand, here’s why.

Comfort Zone

First things first, leaders must make a conscious choice to step up and live out of their comfort zone. Think about it, who wants to follow the whimpy person in the corner who isn’t brave enough to stand up for what they believe in?

Living outside of their comfort zone forces leaders to constantly push themselves. Leadership means having to deal with situations that are not pleasant (aka comfortable) such as firing people or asking people to take pay cuts in hard times. Leadership can also be picking up a piece of trash in the parking lot on the way into the building, people notice small acts of character like that.

Under a Microscope

I like to think of a leader as someone who voluntarily walks under a microscope and says, “Here I am, let me have it!” Because their every move will be judged. If you are the leader of a company, your decisions will affect others and how they are doing their jobs so that is expected. Everyone has an opinion on your decisions.

criticism in leadership

If you are not at the top of an organization, many people will look to do their part and humble you when you make a questionable decision. This usually sounds like, “I told you you didn’t have to work that hard on that project,” or, “Why are you picking up trash? That’s gross, we have a janitor for that.”

People want to stay on the same plane with others, it’s hard for most people to see you rise above them. It’s because your peers recognize the leadership in those actions that they will bring criticism your way. It’s hard for many people to encourage others to shine, because they think they will be left in the dark. 

Everyone has a chance to lead, or in this case, shine. That same person that brought criticism on you has the same choice you did, they can stand out or they can fit in. Leaders choose to be under a microscope, it forces us into that uncomfortable place where everyone can see and judge us.


With criticism comes accountability, and the good leaders there take that head on. They don’t make excuses and they don’t shy away from the microscope. If you put yourself out there, be prepared to be criticized and then held accountable. 

Since people are watching your every move, they will want to know your motives. The only way to lead effectively and not drive yourself crazy is to operate with full transparency. If people are left to guess at your motives, they will come up with some outlandish things.

This is how many office rumors start, a leader makes choices in the shadows and doesn’t explain to their people the reasons for X, Y, and  Z actions. They will come up with their own ideas that are warped and typically don’t give you the benefit of the doubt. So you spend time diffusing those rumors or soothing upset people on the front lines.

The only thing worse than operating behind a cloak of mystery is to lie to your people. To “throw them off the trail” of what you are doing or your true motives. This is toxic leadership and shows complete lack of trust in one’s own organization. This will kill an organization from within.

Daily Preparation

Leadership doesn’t take a day off. You can have a lack in productivity, you can make a mistake with figures, but you cannot let your character slide. If you operate with transparency, you will be able to bounce back from mistakes on your work, but it is infinitely more difficult to repair your perceived character within an organization when your leadership stumbles.

Expect to take criticism on the chin, it’s going to happen every day. You have to be prepared to be resilient in uncomfortable situations and bounce back with honesty to your people. Nobody trusts or follows a liar, transparency in your daily operations are crucial. And above all else, do not compromise on your character or that criticism will tear you apart from the inside out.

What is your experience with criticism in leadership? How has it affected your leadership style?

Leave me a comment below or chat with me on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you.

Have a great day!