In a general public setting, over a period of many years, I have dealt with those who have the right to be a critic. My reply is never aggressive, condescending or ignorant. It is always a quick and well-thought-out reply, educating the vendor. Should I not be able to answer that vendor, I will let them know and add, “I’ll get back to you on this matter.” I will look into the issue and ensure a timely response, possibly through an invite to my office. I have an open door policy with all my employees and co-workers.
Constructive criticism is welcomed as it encourages the person/colleagues to view items or actions in a different light. However, often criticism comes from people that do nothing but criticize and never offer solutions. A mayor and councillors will have to work as a team to discern which criticism should be addressed and respond accordingly.
As mayor, it is important to maintain a strong connection with the people we serve. This helps us focus on their priorities, and allows us to improve things we are considering. I’ve worked hard to keep that connection strong. My philosophy has been to maintain an open door policy and return phone calls. People are passionate, but if we want to have conversations that lead to a better community, it’s always important to make sure these discussions remain civil. This helps us reach across differences of opinion, and also helps your elected representatives do the best they can.
Leadership is not a popularity contest; therefore criticism will naturally occur. You can’t let fear of criticism influence your decisions because it’s always about doing what’s best for the city. You can’t play the victim; you must own the criticism and convert it into new opportunities. It’s important to learn and turn negativity into something positive to enable growth and innovation. When faced with criticism you need to step back, assess the situation and avoid acting impulsively or getting defensive. Errors happen; we need to take ownership and be accountable. Council and staff need to know you have their backs when decisions are criticized.
I believe that criticism accompanies leadership, so because the job of a municipal council boils down to making strategic choices, criticism of those in that role should be expected. Criticism isn’t always a bad thing. If it is constructive, a good leader will listen to the criticism and use it to learn, consider new ideas and potentially find a better solution to a problem. A leader doesn’t take destructive criticism personally, but rather responds calmly and objectively to it. The key to turning criticism into a positive is to listen.