Gut Check: Is Your Skin Thick Enough To Be A Leader?

October 28, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Is Your Skin Thick Enough To Be A Leader?

On a recent flight I had the opportunity to watch The Chef, a great film about Casper, a chef played by Jon Favreau, who crosses swords with influential food critic Ramsey Michel, played by Oliver Platt.

The film follows Casper as he struggles to deal with a very negative review penned by Ramsey. Casper is so deeply hurt by the review, he eventually confronts the critic face to face and has a complete meltdown which is captured on video and posted online. It goes viral and as a result of the subsequent publicity, Casper loses his job and begins the painful process of rebuilding his life.

The most moving part of the film for me is Casper’s repeated claims during his confrontation with the food critic that he doesn’t care about the bad review at all, while it’s absolutely clear that it’s eating him up inside. He was deeply hurt by the review and expresses it emphatically.

When the film was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much Casper became obsessed with the negative review. It was clear he didn’t have a thick enough skin to handle the feedback.

It made me think about a lot of leaders I have worked with – from the senior-most levels of the C-suite all the way down to line managers – who at times completely wilt in the face of criticism and negative scrutiny.

The moral of the film is a life lesson for leaders: whatever people are saying about you, or how you are criticized, you need to have a thick skin. It comes with the territory of being a leader and if you aren’t ready for it, then you may need to think twice about becoming a leader in the first place.

Criticism is hard to take, especially when you put your heart and soul into your job as a leader. That passion and commitment is what makes great leaders great. And when we are negatively scrutinized, it can hurt.

However, we cannot let criticism get the better of us. The only way we can carry on with our duties is to have a thick skin and accept that criticism as part of the job.

If you cannot weather it you may find that it begins to undermine your entire performance as a leader. You may be seen as being too sensitive and defensive.

But it can go further. If you can’t handle negative feedback, it might lead you to pander to your various stakeholders. You then start leading to make everyone happy, rather than leading to drive organizational success. Instead of trying to find ways of making everyone better, you are obsessed with what people are saying about you and how you can make them like you.

On the flip side of this equation are the leaders who deal with criticism by completely insulating themselves from it. They reject criticism outright, sometimes reacting angrily towards the people uttering the nasty remarks. These people have forgotten that criticism can, in some instances, provide us with valuable feedback that makes us better leaders.

It’s a very difficult balancing act. You can’t ignore negative feedback. But you can’t let it completely distract you from your duties as a leader.

This week’s gut check question asks: is your skin thick enough to be a leader?

Follow me @VinceMolinaro

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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