Should a Good Manager Take Criticism Personally?

Do any of us take criticism well?

For me, I expect to be able to take it better than I do.  I know that it’s needed and important to my growth as a person and in my career.  I know that it’s important that my decisions and behaviours are course corrected when necessary by someone who I like and trust.  Sometimes that’s my boss.  Sometimes it’s a friend.

But criticism still hurts because it’s personal.

It doesn’t matter that it’s delivered professionally and compassionately and privately by someone that I trust. It’s a rebuke of my behaviour and that is personal.

And that’s OK.

I am going to refer to Trevor Regan‘s   post called “Choose the Wild” quite a bit here, as much of what he has to say is relevant to taking criticism.  So please read his post and watch the video at the end as I cannot do him justice with my paraphrasing.

If you live in a world where no one criticizes you, you are a tiger living in a zoo.  All safe and easy. There is no struggle. In fact, you are hiding from the struggle, the fear and the failure that a jungle tiger lives with every day.

In the world of the mid-level manager, the fear of criticism and the failure it represents is one of the scariest things you will experience in the workplace jungle.  Because that project, that sale, that event, that new product is a reflection of you and if it fails, you fail.  And failure is very personal.

But it’s also part of the jungle life.  You know who never fails?  The zoo tiger.  The manager who does the minimum to keep his job.  The guy who says the right things and performs in front of the big boss but checks out with everyone else.  He’s not growing his team, pushing out new products, hunting for new clients or volunteering for a new project.  He’s hiding in his comfort zone where there is no chance he will be criticized or fail.

So if you’ve chosen to be the jungle tiger, how should you deal with criticism?

Take a moment to acknowledge the failure and to take it personally.

Like this post?  Share on LinkedIn!

That’s right, I want you to take it personally in whatever form that is for you and give it time to hurt.  I encourage you to take criticism personally because you are a person and not a cog in a machine.  If you care about your work, criticism should sting a little and hurt your pride.  In the moment, you need to acknowledge the failure and own it.

For me, taking it personally means calling the boss names under my breath and challenging their intelligence as I talk to myself on the drive home.  I think about the running list of petty grievances that I have with the world.  And I give myself time, usually until the next day, to let it sink in.

As a manager, remember how personal criticism is when delivering it to someone on your team and do it professionally, compassionately and privately.  Give them space to take it personally, even if that means they have to leave the office.  If you were in their shoes, you’d appreciate the understanding and so will they.

If someone doesn’t take it personally, that will tell you something as well.  Start to see if other signs of a zoo tiger are present in that person – hiding, being checked out, performing, or making excuses.  It might be time to force the cage open and drop them into the wild.  Or lend them to another zoo.

After you have given yourself time to take it personally, then get over it and start moving forward again.  Once you’ve made the pitch, launched the product or started manufacturing, it’s all out there with your name on it and it won’t be perfect.  Recognize that criticism and failure are part of being in the jungle.  Acknowledge the intent behind the criticism and make the changes suggested.  Fix the problem.  Go to version 1.1.

Like this post?  Share on LinkedIn!

The experience will have made you better and next time, because there’s always a next time in the jungle, the critics will be fewer and the failures will be minor.  And you will be ready for the next challenge.

Read another post about Becoming a Better Mgr

What Is With You People?

A frustrating thing for a new manager is when the team asks for training, and you deliver it, sharing important ideas to make their jobs more productive.  Then most of them don’t follow through.  They go back to doing things the way they already know.  And it happens again and again.

And each time it’s followed by your inner dialogue that goes something like this:

Why don’t they implement the great suggestions I gave them?  Why are only one or two members of the team really keen to make the changes to their work habits that I recommended?  I know these changes work because they worked for me.  Don’t they care about their job?  Why can’t they be more like me?

At which point it’s best to pull back on the crazy reins…and realize that having a team full of keen learners that want to put in the hard, hairy work of making lasting change is not likely ever going to exist in your time as a manager.  Since most of the people on your team will want to be comfortable most of the time, they will rule themselves out of the change equation:

Time + Commitment + Discomfort = CHANGE

And that’s OK.

For most of the members of your team, it’s just a j-o-b that pays the bills and doesn’t require marching or any kind of manual labor.  They like their job, understand their role and have the skills they need to perform their duties on a daily basis.

This doesn’t mean that they won’t change or won’t learn.  It means that they won’t take to it naturally and will only adopt new processes or learn new skills when their survival depends on it, or when you as the manager force it on them.  I know you’d prefer not to micro-manage, but when something absolutely, positively has to change by a certain time, there is no better way than tracking, measuring, reporting and meeting about the status of the changes. Every day until it’s no longer the new process.  It’s just the process.

So if they are not going to implement change, why do they ask for the training?  I would guess that the team is not actually asking for the training – but it’s just the one or two keeners in the group and they are asking really loudly.  And you are listening, because you speak their language, as you were likely one of them before you sat in the manager’s chair.  So it will be up to you to evaluate a training or development request from the future company rock star. Most likely you can accommodate the request with some 1-1 time with them and avoid the inner soliloquy of frustration that follows team training sessions that are interesting to only two people, you and the person that requested it.

Save the team training and the required managing by FedEx (tracking, measuring and reporting) for new ideas, processes or skills that are game changing or company saving.

Being a Manager in 2016

As part of the SOHO (Small Office Home Office) event in Victoria on January 21, 2016, I was asked to join some of the other speakers, panelists, and experts to provide predictions for 2016.

As I am a manager and my coaching is primarily with managers and business owners that manage small teams, my items are focused on what these “people managers” might see in 2016:

Your employees will get younger and they will better connect you with a younger customer.
Your younger staff will want to mentor you and your business will be better for it – so listen up!
More small business owners or sole proprietors will retire and sell their business – creating an opportunity for you!

The overall demographics of the workplace are starting to get younger as the largest generation in history, the Baby Boomers really start to retire.  2016 will be year 10 of a 25-year retirement window for most Boomers.

As the next group up, Gen Xers will move into executive roles and start or buy companies from retiring Boomers (my third point) the natural generation to fill the empty spots are Millenials, who are already the largest generation in the workforce:


This generation of workers will connect you to a younger customer – and you want these people as customers.  They are the largest segment of the working population – also known as people with regular income to spend at your business –  and will be for the next 30 years.

The long-term success of your business will depend upon your ability to sell to a Millennial.

Lucky for you, as Millennials join your team they can help you market and sell to their own kind.  And they won’t be shy about telling you how to do it (my second point) – and that’s OK.  Soak in what they have to share, give them a job with a purpose that they can pursue with passion and then lean on them to recruit more Millennials, as customers and as team members.  It’s an ambitious generation that will jump to the next job at dizzying speeds – and that is also OK.

Don’t fight it.

In 2016, embrace how Millennials can make your business better now and in the future.




My Name is Chip

I work for you and I don’t like it.

We joined the company at the same time and worked in the same unit.  Everybody likes me and I am the best performer on our team.  I’m going to make a difference in this company.

But they made you the manager.  So you are technically my boss.  Even though more people like me and I am the best at what I do.

And now you are telling me how to do things.  I already know what’s best for my clients and me, so I am going to nod my head in our meetings and then keep doing it the way I have always done it.  The right way. My way.

And now you have a problem with that?  You schedule a meeting, without even asking me, in your office and when I get there you close the door.  All serious.

Then you ask me about a client project and why I did it the old way, my way.  Because I know best for my clients.  Why do I even need to answer to you?  I’m the most deserving and I was passed over…


Before Chip goes all Fredo Corleone and makes his case to Michael, let’s talk about how to manage someone like him.

Being promoted into a managerial slot from a group of people that you will then have to manage is pretty rough – and passive aggressive people like Chip make it that much harder.  Chip’s sense of entitlement, which he will call destiny, will prevent him from seeing the reality of the situation and at first might make it hard for him to support you.

So kill him with kindness.  In The Godfather, when Michael when says, “Fredo, you’re my brother and I love you.”  He is really saying, despite the fact that you resent my position and the power you feel I have over your life,  I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt for the good of the family.

When you’re dealing with Chip, make sure he knows how much you value his contribution to the team. Praise him in public at the team meetings, especially when he reluctantly gets on board for something new.  Hopefully, he will see you as someone who is on Team Chip and decide to return the favour and support you.  These small wins are huge in your career as a manager – when you give someone the chance to turn around and they take it.

What if he doesn’t and continues the small acts of defiance?  Better to address it quick behind closed doors before he calls Johnny Ola and Hyman Roth.  Give him a chance to vent his real reason for not getting on the bus.

Assuming it’s jealousy or immaturity is a mistake on your part.

Chip is a person and there may be personal stuff going on beyond “they promoted you and not me.”   If that’s all there is, we can all sympathize with being passed over and you should tell him that.  Give him examples of all the good things you have done together in the past and the great things to come and his importance to the team.  But at some point he has to suck it up and decide if he wants to continue doing things his own way or get over himself and enjoy the ride.

Make it clear this meeting is the first step in the disciplinary process and what the timetable is for seeing improvement and what that specific improvement should be.  This starts the clock ticking in his head – either how quickly he needs to change or what the latest date he has to find another job.

From this point on it’s a win for you as a manager either way.

  • Chip stays and is a team player and is grateful for your role in keeping him at the company, WIN!
  • Chip leaves on his own and takes his toxic attitude with him, WIN!
  • Chip stays and so does his attitude?  You’re covered and can move toward dismissal. WIN!

Every Chip you manage is an opportunity shine.

Driving the Bus – Part 4

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

In Part One, we talked about the pre-hiring process and in Part Two we discussed who to hire and fire.  Part 3 focused on the kind of work your team members do and making sure they are in the best physical environment.  Our final post discusses delegating control after you figure out Who Else Can Drive?

One of the most rewarding parts about being a manager is seeing your team succeed on their own merits.  Successful product launches or sales pitches or service calls benefit everyone – the company, the manager and the team members.

So after you take a moment to revel in the glory, take another moment to think about who is ready to Drive Your Bus.  Or Drive their Own Bus.

The best time for a mini promotion within the team is while the juice is still flowing from a recent success.  You will have observed who contributed at what stages, who was the most engaged, and who did the most for other team members. So as you gear up for the next project, find a way to let that person drive the bus a little.  As a kid, my dad would let me drive on the highway sitting on his lap while he worked the pedals.  I was driving but under his guidance.  Same idea here.

Here’s an example:  If it’s a product launch, ask your star to run your version of the After Action Review, gathering feedback from the team and customers about the positives and negatives from the launch, then providing a verbal briefing to other managers or better yet to executives.  This allows you to recognize the star’s contribution in front of the team and in front of your boss and their peers as well – which helps his career and your reputation as someone who develops high performers.

If that goes well, the next natural step is to ask the star to run the requirements gathering phase of the next product launch or a spin-off from the first product, which can be followed by overseeing the build process, then the Beta test, then the roll out.  If all goes well, you have a new product manager, who can then help you identify the next person to spotlight.

Greyhound drivers on long trips switch off the driving duties to keep them fresh and focused, same with airline pilots and people like us on cross country trips to Wally World.  Managers should do the same.

Driving the Bus – Part 3

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

In Part One, we talked about the pre-hiring process and in Part Two we discussed who to hire and fire.  Next up we look around at our passengers and decide Where Should They Sit – which includes their actual physical workspaces and the kind of work they do.

We have now figured out where we are going and picked the passengers on our bus of great expectations, so our next goal is to make sure everyone is sitting in the right seats.

Onboard our bus, sitting in the right seat means each person being in a role that suits their skills and experience and where they can contribute the most to achieving our goals.

So, start the bus rolling toward the target and make adjustments as you go.  A team is an organism that changes everyday in small ways and your job as the manager is to be observant of the small changes.   Performance, of course, is a major indicator, but a team member’s health, their appearance or energy level and outside stressors can throw someone off track.  Too many of those small changes building up can throw enough people off track and then you get bigger tremors or even major fault lines that cause the bus to go off course.

Most noticeable in the team fishbowl is when internal stressors are causing someone to go off course – their cubby buddy, their chair, their work schedule, their part in the assignment, their perception regarding their contribution to the end goal – can all lead someone to the dark side and sap their motivation.

As a manager, small changes to make someone happy leads to big returns.

Hard-driving, self-reliant tough talking managers may scoff at the guy who needs a place to park his bike or the team member who gets too warm sitting near the window.  But solving these problems are the easiest things to do as a manager and almost always get you the best result.  Try it.  Just say yes the next time someone needs something small (which is likely gigantic to them).  People are so used to “no” and their genuine appreciation for your actions to support them will come in handy when you have to ask them for something larger and more complex in half the time.

In the end, even after everyone is sitting in the right seat, they still have to deliver.  If they don’t, then it’s time to find them another seat on the bus that fits their skills, experience and energy or it’s time to pull the cord, ring the bell and let them off at the next stop.

Driving the Bus – Part 2(b)

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.  I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the Bus going?
  2. Who should be on the Bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success. In Part Two A, we started with a section about Who Should Be on the Bus by talking about asking existing staff to get off the bus.  In this post, we are going to invite some new people to jump on the bus. What an exciting time! Bringing new people into an organization or onto a small team can send a shock of energy through the building.  Look what just happened with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Against 10 years of history, they made significant trades for better players to help them win this year and the jolt was felt right through the organization.  Their Monday game after the big trade was sold out and electric at the ballpark and the team is undefeated in the last week.  Contrast that to a year ago, when the Jays were in it and did not make a move. The fans howled, the media questioned and the players grumbled – and then started losing and missed the playoffs. Don’t miss the playoffs!  When you have a chance to strengthen your team through the hiring process, spend time on it and get it right. But where do you start?  Certainly not with a help wanted ad or a hiring ad on Monster.  Yes, you will post the ad internally and send it out online as part of the hiring process but your best prospects will not likely come from a stack of resumes.  They will come from your own personal list of superstars you want to hire, who do the same job with better results, better attitude and a new outlook at their existing company.

Do you keep a list of superstars?

If you are not, I would suggest that you start.  Start with your competitors locally, then nationally and find the person that kicks your butt at every pitch or who designs a product two upgrades more advanced than yours, year in and year out.  In baseball, one phrase you hear a lot is “Glad he’s on our side”  – because you’d rather not face them when with the game on the line.  Hire that person.

I would also suggest that you don’t limit your superstar list to your own industry.  Good sales people, CSR’s, coders and project managers work right down the street from you.  Identify the best companies around from their local press, awards for results, venture capital funding announcements, workplace awards, whatever and target the people you need who have proven results.

There is no better way for you to shine as a manager than to hire a superstar – both in the short term exhilaration of the moment when you hire a superstar but also when the results start improving as a result of that hire.