If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored.Proverbs 13:18
A few years ago one of the guys I was leading asked what I looked for when I was hiring a new leader. I thought for a few minutes. I mean, there were a lot of possible answers. Expertise, experience, drive, tenacity, passion for the mission, passion for people. I think all of these would have been acceptable answers. but then I landed on the one I thought influenced all the others.
Being teachable is a form of humility that allows me to change. To grow. It’s the admission that I don’t know everything, even about myself. It acknowledges the talent and expertise of the people around me, and it gives me a soft heart toward others.
Being proactively teachable is something many of us enjoy. I love it. Reading, taking classes, and watching instructional videos about things I’m interested in keeps me intellectually interested and nimble.
But what about constructive criticism?
Um…I’m not always so cool with that. I often find myself getting defensive, even if I don’t express it. It’s especially tough when I get the unexpected “Hey, can we chat for a minute?” request. I know what’s coming, and I hate it. I find myself desperately searching for reasonable explanations that justify me. I want to defend. Or attack. Or both.
Here’s the paradox…at least for me. While I love encouragement, adulation and applause, I’ve found that the constructive criticism I receive is often the most helpful to my growth and development.
But it’s still hard.
For many years I worked for a boss who approached me almost weekly to give me constructive feedback. At first, I hated it. Sure he made a lot of positive “deposits”, but I still didn’t like the fact that he always had something to share with me that was tough to hear. Did he really care about me? Well, as I grew I could see that he did care about me, saw the potential in me and wanted to develop it. He was transparent about wanting me to assume more responsibility, and he recommended me to take his role when he moved on!
As a result I’ve learned that if I create an atmosphere where people can truly be honest with me, I’ll be better, the team will be better and we’ll all ultimately be more successful.
Be patient – it’s a process.
Of course it’s one thing to know this intellectually, but being teachable in practice can still be rough. I fail often. Still, I recognize that my team often mirrors the behavior I model, so if I willingly listen to criticism and show the willingness to change, it sets the tone for the team. But if I react defensively I signal to the team that we need to protect ourselves. My lack of teachability doesn’t create the safe environment I think is most conducive to having an effective, healthy team, and I miss out on growing to my full potential.