Leaders must take criticism as advice

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Leaders must take criticism as advice

A few days ago, an editor in chief of a newspaper said over lunch, “I feel like I hear people criticizing me day and night.” He suffers from auditory hallucinations in which his colleagues, juniors and bosses talk about him all the time.

Every morning, the report card of the chief editor is released to the world through the newspaper. You can imagine the tremendous stress he has to live with.

However, a wise leader makes good use of the people around him complaining and grumbling to learn the opinions and evaluations in and out of the organization. He takes the criticism and evaluation as a chance for self-examination.

Some want to praise their own achievements or masterfully convince themselves that they made the right decision in order to overcome the stress and pressure. It may boost morale, but most of the time, the leaders are arrogant and stubborn, especially the failed ones.

Even in monarchies, a wise ruler keeps the straight-talking ministers close. Chinese Emperor Taizong of Tang - one of the most praised rulers in the history of China - encouraged harsh criticism and frank advice.

“If a ruler thinks he is smarter than others and does as he wishes, his vassals will try to please him. Then the ruler will lose the country and the retainers cannot keep their lives,” he said.

The golden age of Chinese history, the “Reign of Zhenguan,” could have been possible as Emperor Taizong was willing to listen to others.

In a way, contemporary political leaders have an advantage over Emperor Taizong. They are checked by the opposition parties and watched by the media.

However, it is rare to find a successful leader because aides who give frank advice are hard to find. The aides do not convey public opinion and evaluation or remind leaders of mistakes and wrongdoings before the opposition or the media raises an issue.

After 42 years of iron-fist rule over Libya, Muammar el-Qaddafi met a brutal end. It is a natural outcome and consequence he deserves as he faced no opposition or proper media and had no honest aides.

No one likes to be criticized. However, there is a huge difference between those who take the criticism as advice and learn from it and those who cover their ears and ignore any negative feelings.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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