Critique — CEO Shoptalk

Everybody needs a good critique, right? Ahhh, criticism is the breakfast of champions, no?

Big Red Car here on a cloudy Texas day. Only going to be in the low 80s today. Time to start thinking about the swimming pool, eh? Haha, Hell no. Swimming today, y’all.

So when you’re a CEO you will receive and give critiques. Makes sense, no? Performance appraisal — feedback — is the breakfast of champions.

Today, I want to get your mind right about how to receive this when it is you being critiqued. Ready?

Writers group

Every week, I go to a couple of writers’ groups. [The Big Red Car is a published author.]

You bring four or five copies of something you wrote, usually 3,000 words or ten pages. Throw it on the table with four or five others from other authors.

The group reads all the pieces and for the next 60-90 minutes you critique each others work.

At first, you take everything personal. You are a little combative and defensive. When you grow up, you listen carefully as you want to know what others think of your work.

[Good groups go around the room and mandate the author shut up until the end whereat he gets a minute or two to speak and ask questions.]

All writers go through this and it is a good analogy for a CEO.

What do you do about the critique, Big Red Car?

The first thing you do is listen to make damn sure you are getting the points being made. Your other writers will write their notes on your piece. Later, when you are home again, you can refer to the notes and make any revisions that strike your fancy.

There are two choices:

 1. Accept the criticism and make a change; or,

 2. Reject the criticism and make no change.

Critique — to be useful — requires analysis and action. If you do not analyze the critique or act upon it, then it is worthless.

What happens over the passage of time is that you find many more of the criticisms are valid than invalid. Huh?

Yes, you have blind spots in your writing and you are being provided with insights which you may not have seen, felt, caught.

Take a deep breath — turns out you are neither Hemingway nor perfect. Wow!

CEO attitude toward criticism, critique

This is the attitude a CEO has to take when dealing with criticism.

 1. Admit you are not perfect [to yourself, dear reader, not an ad in the New York Times].

 2. Recognize you have blind spots.

 3. Listen carefully and make sure you understand the criticism. Write it down.

 4. Look at the criticism after you have had an opportunity to cool off and reflect.

 5. Decide what you embrace; make those changes.

 6. Decide what you think is poppycock; reject those changes. Keep the notes and store them away.

 7. Seek criticism. Act on criticism. Do not be afraid to embrace or reject criticism.

When you get comfortable with this feedback loop, you will find it is totally unemotional. When I go to a writer’s group, I don’t even care what people say anymore. I do ask them what page and line number they are talking about so I can see the words they are critiquing. Most of the criticism is correct.

This is you comfortable with criticism. Notice that you are still the King of the Jungle. Notice that you are still the leader of the pride.

Life, as a writer or a CEO, is about telling a story with continuous rewrites and edits. It never stops, because you never stop getting better.

[Pro tip: Make sure you have an Employment Agreement. Make sure your Employment Agreement provides for an annual or six month Performance Appraisal. Make sure it is in writing (get a good form). Make sure it is done face-to-face. Make sure you take it to heart. Make sure it addresses compensation at the same time.]

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be good to the person in the mirror. 

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