The book of Proverbs provides a wealth of wise counsel and great advice for many areas of life, including leadership.  Four proverbs in particular talk about the wisdom people and leaders receive when they humble themselves to listen to the constructive criticism from others.

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise – (15:31). To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry – (25:12).  In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery – (28:23).  These three proverbs have a common element of being able to seek, listen for and accept constructive criticism.

Simply stated, people who are secure in themselves will welcome constructive criticism as a way to continue learning and growing, while insecure people will resist such valuable nuggets.  Insecure people may get defensive or offer any number of excuses rather than just listening to constructive criticism.

We can learn a great deal from others, including the perception that others have of us as leaders.  We may disagree with these perceptions, or not be aware of them at all.  Yet, if these perceptions are what others view as facts regarding our behaviors, intentions, attitudes or motives, then we are wise to pay attention to them.

These three proverbs also speak of the value received in hearing constructive criticism.  In one case, you will be “at home among the wise” – that holds significant value.  The second verse says valid criticism is likened to jewelry that holds high value.  In the third proverb, honest criticism is valued higher than what we receive when others point out our good points through flattery.

So there is real value in listening for and accepting valid, honest and constructive criticism. Yes, it may be difficult or sometimes painful to listen to what others have to say to us.  Nevertheless, the value received far out weighs the difficulty or pain.

How would you rate yourself in listening for and accepting criticism?  Do you value it as much as the writers of Proverbs have suggested?

Proverbs 29:1 says, Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. To be “destroyed beyond recovery” is a scary thought. This is what will happen to those who “stubbornly refuse to accept criticism.”

According to Sam Chand, a former pastor and university president,”It’s hard to work with somebody who has the attitude that he or she is right and everybody else is wrong. So for me, if somebody doesn’t have the attitude of self-improvement or self-criticism, I can’t really work with that person.”

Sam is really echoing the advice given in this proverb. In other words, if, because of their attitude someone refuses to listen to or acknowledge criticism because they feel they are always right, they will be destroyed – people will not want to work with them or for them and they will no longer be in a position to lead others.

Leaders must be secure enough to want to hear such valuable insight that constructive criticism can provide.  Using a 360 degree feedback tool or having a coach work with a leader is important for their growth.

Being secure indicates that the leader has a strong amount of self-confidence, without being arrogant about it.  This requires humility and a willingness to listen to others input of what you are doing and how you are behaving.

Warren Bennis has said that “The (organizational) cultures that are the most toxic are those where nobody knows the truth or is talking about it. Toxic cultures are those where there usually isn’t that degree of openness. And they can’t be transparent about everything but there are too many examples of companies failing where there’s been a lack of transparency.”

Sounds to me like the leaders of those cultures do not promote the value of listening for and accepting constructive criticism.

What do you think? Do you willingly seek out constructive criticism or have you avoided it?