Why Leaders Shouldn’t Take Things Personally

by | Nov 27, 2023 | Podcast

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I was recently reminded why leaders shouldn’t take things personally.

Last week, my 10-year-old son, Jack, and I discussed an incident in school. After listening to his story, I asked, “Why do you take what he said personally? He paused and rather than answering, he asked, “Why don’t you ever seem bothered by what people say or do?” The question caught me off guard, but it made me reflect deeply. Jack had unwittingly touched upon a crucial trait that every leader should cultivate: the ability not to take things personally.

Why Leaders Need to Let Things Slide Off Their Backs

Fostering Objectivity: A leader’s role requires making decisions based on facts, logic, and the best interests of the group or organization. Emotional reactions can cloud judgment, leading to choices based on ego rather than what’s best for the team.

Maintaining Credibility: Leaders who react emotionally to every critique or slight can appear insecure or unstable. Maintaining a calm demeanor in the face of criticism helps to establish and retain credibility.

Building a Positive Culture: If a leader takes everything to heart, it can create a tense environment where team members are afraid to voice concerns or share feedback. Leaders who handle feedback without taking it personally encourage open dialogue and foster trust.

Preserving Energy for What Matters: Leadership demands a lot of energy. Getting bogged down by every negative comment or action can drain a leader’s energy reserves, detracting from the tasks and challenges that truly need attention.

Modeling Resilience for the Team: Leaders set the tone for their teams. Leaders can inspire their teams to be more resilient in facing challenges by demonstrating resilience and a thick skin.

It Makes You Happier: Not taking things personally or being bothered by negative opinions makes me happier. When you look at feedback as a way to grow and are grateful for it, it’s easy not to take it personally. Additionally, I’ve learned that some people just won’t like me and that’s okay. If I get upset by negative comments or opinions, I give away my power and refuse to do so. Instead, I let it roll off my back and move on – a recipe for happiness in life and leadership. I subscribe by this mantra: leaders shouldn’t take things personally.

Five Tips on How Not to Take Things Personally

Practice Self-awareness: Understand your emotional triggers and work on recognizing when they’re activated. This recognition can help you pause and respond rationally rather than reacting emotionally.

Seek Clarity: Before jumping to conclusions, ask questions to understand the context and intentions behind feedback or actions.

Detach from the Outcome: Remember that feedback is often about the task, role, or outcome and not a reflection of your worth as a person.

Surround Yourself with Supportive People: A strong support system, be it family, friends, or mentors, can offer perspective and help you navigate challenges.

Practice Regular Reflection: Set aside time to assess and reflect on your reactions and behaviors. Consider journaling or seeking feedback from trusted colleagues.

The Counterpoint: The Importance of Listening

While it’s essential for leaders not to take things personally, it’s equally important not to swing the pendulum too far and become apathetic to feedback. Constructive criticism can be instrumental in personal and organizational growth. Leaders should remain open to feedback, discerning the valuable insights from the noise. Ignoring or dismissing all feedback can lead to blind spots, stagnation, and missed opportunities for improvement.

The balance lies in being emotionally resilient while staying receptive to growth. And this is what I tried to explain to Jack, even though I am not sure he fully understood what I was saying. But then again, maybe he did because he replied, “Well, you do seem to be much happier than most grownups I know. I like being happy!” And then he asked to go play Fortnite. Lol.

Leaders shouldn’t take things personally: this is a lesson not just for leaders but for all of us as we navigate life’s challenges.

Question of the Week

It’s time again to answer, “What are you reading now?

“Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight. I love this story.

Why? Shoe Dog is more than just a memoir chronicling the ascent of Nike; it’s a vivid portrayal of the passion, grit, and ingenuity behind its founder. Knight’s transformation from selling shoes from his car’s trunk to spearheading one of the world’s most iconic brands serves as a powerful testament to tenacity and vision, reminding us that even the grandest companies sprout from a singular idea fueled by fervor. Knight’s relentless spirit in overcoming myriad challenges, from financial hurdles to legal confrontations, offers invaluable insights for leaders navigating their obstacles. But Knight’s journey wasn’t solitary. He accentuates the paramount importance of fostering a committed team, highlighting the integral role his early Nike team, affectionately termed the “Buttfaces,” played in the brand’s evolution. Moreover, the narrative intertwines data-driven strategy with gut-driven intuition, showcasing the intricate balance leaders must strike. Perhaps most poignantly, Knight’s candid admission of his fears, doubts, and blunders underscores the essence of vulnerability in leadership, making “Shoe Dog” an essential read for all of us.

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