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On Leadership: Never Let Criticism Define You.

October 1, 2015
Borderless Leadership

“I like what I am doing, much better than what other folks are not doing.”  John Hope Bryant

“It’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to that’s important. Never, ever answer out of your name.”  Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray

After attending the 11th Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, I can say with confidence that President Clinton and his Clinton Foundation are what I call a study in persistent, positive energyAnd a lot of work.  In other words, they are actually doing the actual work they say they are doing.

I have seen it for myself.

But facts alone seldom matter in our world, and criticism, so easy. 

This year the foundation has been the focus of some fairly intense criticism. Some of it understandable. Most of it something close to hysterical-ridiculousness at scale.  But it all makes headlines, and in the political arena it’s the headlines, not the facts nor the actual work that matters most.

So how has my friend President Clinton dealt with all of this? With consistently. When I saw him yesterday, he looked great, as usual.  This is his secret.

Bill Clinton does not let his critics define him.

This is a brilliant leadership lesson, and a very helpful life management skill that most everyone can learn something from. So, how does he do it? After years spending time around him, this I now know.

You can love him, like him, hate him, or call him unkind names. He listens, considers, sets aside the parts he considers non-substantive, and just keeps it moving. Focused, once again on his agenda.

He simply did not let his critics define him.

And here’s the best part.  Even after you call him not so nice names, or you try to throw the equivalent of a political kitchen sink at him, you might be surprised to find that he often finds a way to ‘like you anyway.’  He can find the best in you, even if you have no interest in even looking for the same in him.

He does not let his critics define him.

President Bill Clinton is the poster child for my quote, “step over mess, not in it.”  He just keeps stepping over his critics, criticism, and barriers — to get done what he believes he needs to get done.

He does not let his critics define him.

If President Clinton had listened exclusively to all the pundits leading up to his Annual Meeting held this week, he might have just cancelled it. The critics countless articles all said a version of ‘leaders will not come,’ and ‘important invitation have not been honored,’  etc. etc. What are these people talking about? The Sheraton Hotel was packed.

There were more leaders per square inch there this week than anytime I have seen — since maybe the last CGI meeting this time last year. Other than of course our  own recent Annual Meeting in Atlanta — which also featured President Clinton (yes, I am both a friend and a fan).  And when I say CGI was packed, I am talking about leaders from all walks of life; black and white, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat and Independent too.

The President just walked right through the critics, all trying desperately to define him.

He decided to define himself instead.

I have had the honor or working with both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush, both of which have helped me advance my work. They are ‘doers’ in our world.  I like doers.

Politician, business person, engineer, investor, educator, artist or otherwise, I think the world respects Doers much more than it likes the critic.

Here are my 10 easy rules for managing critics and criticism for Doers.

1. Figure out what you are for.  Want an advantage in life? Figure out what you are for, in a worse that increasingly obsesses about what it is against.  Figure out what you are for and stick to it like a fish sticks to water.  Call yourself a Doer.

“I like what you are doing, much better than what other folks are not doing.”
Critics rarely do anything.  They mostly just talk.  A lot.

2. Never give up. This timeless counsel comes from the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, and it is this:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Never give up, give in, or punk out.  That one was from me.

3.  Step over mess, not in it. Don’t win battles and lost the war.  Don’t re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.  BE GRACIOUS.    As my dear friend Rod McGrew would say, “when you have got the power, you don’t need to use it.”

Or the timeless quote from my mentor Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray“talk without being offensive. Listen without being defensive. And always leave even your adversary with their dignity. Because if you don’t, they will spend their life working to make you miserable.”

4.  Define yourself.  Another Rev. Cecil Murray quote, “it’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to that’s important.” And then I added, “to argue with a fool, proves there are two.”

5.  Accept this as a moment. Recognize that God willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say in the South, ‘this too shall pass.’

6.  Do you. KNOW YOU.

7.  Find your True North.  Have an internal constitution, that defines you.

8.  Stand for something.  Even if others don’t understand it.  Even if the crowd doesn’t agree with you.  Stand for something or you will fall for anything.  Or worse, fail and fall after being criticized by most anyone.

9.  Practice acceptance.  You cannot grow without legitimate suffering.  Rainbows only follow storms.

10. Pick a side. Punks and pundits criticize. Leaders and doers crystallize and catalyze.

Leadership is a contact sport. You will get battened and bruised, but when you find your own True North these same bruises will double as medals of valor in your own life trophy case.

Here are three bonus take away tools:

1. I’d rather you respect me and learn to like me, than to like me, and never respect me.

2. Learn to take no for vitamins. 3. Redefine success as going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.  It’s really hard to get disappointed that way (smile).

And if you get lost, read Chapter 5 from my book Love Leadership, entitled Loss Creates Leaders.

Okay, let’s go…

By John Hope Bryant

Source: LinkedIn Pulse

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