Criticism, Power, and Validation
If a subordinate gives you negative feedback, it often implies a bigger compliment. It means that people trust you because you conduct yourself with integrity. Otherwise, your subordinates wouldn’t dare to speak up.
Good for you.
Of course, I would rather be praised than criticized but when somebody over whom you have power is honest with you, you ought to feel good about yourself. It confirms that you are living the good life. Recognizing the humanity of your subordinates, you conduct yourself with discipline and consideration. You know that because somebody with less power was willing to risk your wrath and trusted that you would not take your anger out on them but would be willing to evaluate yourself fairly and reasonably.
Nobody is perfect. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. If you do good work and you are committed to the mission of your cause or company, you can afford occasional setbacks. When you realize that you don’t need to be perfect, it will make you better and stronger because now you can learn from your mistakes, gain new insights, and improve your performance.
That doesn’t mean that the subordinate is right. But he or she had a reason for the comment. I suspect that critics may not be entirely aware of their motives. Subordinates are not in a position to entirely appreciate your constraints.
How the criticism is valid is for you to figure out. When you do, the rewards are one more measure of wisdom and a little progress for yourself.
I always think there’s at least a small kernel of truth in any criticism and I do value it, even when it’s delivered very poorly or by someone with an obvious agenda. Feedback is a gift; take what is applicable and discard the rest. Self-awareness is the key — it’s a messy ego that picks up everyone else’s shit.
In general I think criticism is often a compliment. I even wrote a post about it. In a nutshell, when someone takes the time to point out one flaw, it often means that the rest of what you’re doing is good — good enough to be worth making an effort to be even better.
And (as you point out) it’s even more important for leaders of an organization to be open to criticism. Cultivating an atmosphere where only the rosy picture is allowed to be expressed is a great way to see the entire company running toward the edge of a cliff…