A few years ago, I came across a wonderful article penned by a prominent executive coach in which she answered an often asked question: Who are your toughest clients to work with? Leaders, who lack experience, cultivate a culture of fear, or take credit for others’ ideas? Those who micromanage?
Her answer was none of the above.
Instead, she finds the most difficult leaders to coach are the ones who won’t take the time to reflect on themselves and truly self-critique— two things that are crucial for personal and business growth.
Confidence in Success; Humility in Failure
Running any successful business involves a generous dose of the proverbial good, bad and ugly.
Let’s start with the good. I believe it’s vital to interrogate the “why” behind each success. Every leader welcomes those times when the stars seem to align favorably. Instead of simply basking in the glory of the moment, you should use your positive outcomes as opportunities to learn and grow.
Set aside time to reflect on your choice of words and precise actions in the critical moments that lead to the result. Revisit every step and raw emotion, both positive and negative. It is important to internalize positive behaviors and build that mental muscle until success becomes as instinctive as it is intentional. This is a great way to train for the next event by becoming comfortable and confident in your achievements.
Now onto the bad and sometimes ugly.
Nobody likes to hear “no” or have things fall through in business. But resilient leaders are quick to seize back control. They find a way to rise above the disappointment, frustration and worry that typically flow from a failure or missed opportunity. Perhaps most importantly, they recognize the importance of analyzing the setback from every angle. They self-critique to see what caused the failure to minimize the chances of it ever happening again. They share their thoughts with their inner circle. Then, they get back to business.
Internal Reflection Is Just the Start
While looking inward is vital, everyone needs to look externally to understand the critiques of others, too.
If there’s no one else around to really critique you, make you pause to evaluate your day-to-day, no one will, and you won’t be held accountable. Well, not until your actions or failure to act cause the house of cards to come crashing down around you.
Part of this involves leaving your ego at the door and being interested in understanding how others in your business really perceive you. This goes beyond being popular or liked. It’s more about exerting a positive influence, which, after all, is your core responsibility as a leader. Exerting the influence you want requires knowing what others desire and want from you — as well as understanding their level of trust in you.
When it comes to external insight and inspiration, take time to understand your customers’ points of view. Customers don’t always say why they’re telling you “no” or not buying what you’re selling, so you have to consider both the quantitative and qualitative possibilities.
Quantitative would be something like cost. In this case, perhaps you didn’t do a good enough job articulating the features and benefits of your product or service.
Qualitative would be something like, “I don’t like you.” It’s understandable that most customers like to deal with pleasant people they deem trustworthy. So, where was the disconnect? Did you do something to break their trust? What method of communication did you use with them, and what exactly did you say? Were the messaging and ultimate decisions affected by, for example, some behind-the-scene politics?
Great self-critiquing also involves turning your eye on rivals in your marketplace. The best and most successful business people I know never underestimate the value of looking to their competitors as a source of wisdom and learning.
An Art and a Science
Effective self-critiquing requires thought and reflection but also decisive action. To ensure your actions are impactful, you need to gather the right data points. How do your employees really feel about your company? What satisfaction metrics are you using to gauge their sentiment? What’s your employee retention rate when compared to the average for your industry? When good people leave, make sure you understand why. Is there a problem you’re unaware of but could easily correct?
External data points to collect also include your customer retention rate compared to others in your industry. How long have you had the customers you currently have? Do you really understand why customers you’ve had for years keep coming back? Actively seek out anecdotal information and feedback to help in your self-critiques. When you have the answers to these questions, you’ll know precisely where to direct your investment and iteratively build your internal and external value proposition.
Constructive, measured and honest self-critiquing isn’t easy, but its rewards are often unexpected and unbeatable.