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Municipal Leaders Should Embrace Feedback from Critics

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By Buster Nicholson, Public Sector Outreach

Municipal leaders often run into resistance when they pitch an idea to their coworkers, council, or the public. Sometimes the fear of rejection can cripple someone in authority who needs to be decisive. However, it’s important to remember that resistance and criticism can actually uncover vital information that results in a better idea or proposal and ultimately leads to a more robust conclusion.

Criticism Helps Identify Problems

It sounds like common sense, but it’s important to emphasize that people in leadership positions must critically weigh the options that contribute to their decisions. Many leaders seek the advice of others before making a decision. However, don’t just seek the input of friends or acquaintances, go beyond your circle of support.

Friends and acquaintances often want to give you a sense of self-worth and importance. For the most part, their motives have good intentions. But they also have a tendency to avoid identifying problems with ideas, which, in the end, are not helpful to you, your career, or your organization.

[Related: Conflict is Necessary for Effective Municipal Leadership]

Critics, on the other hand, are bold enough to punch holes in the most solid of plans. When critics point out obstacles and pitfalls to an idea or proposal, instead of meeting this with resistance and offense, treat it as an opportunity to strengthen your idea or plan to make it better.

Seek out Criticism

Leaders should seek the input of many people, including critics. When problems are identified, be curious as to why there are objections to certain elements of them. Ask many questions and write down the responses. This valuable insight can help you build a better plan and determine the best way to present this plan or proposal to a specific audience.

[Related: Curiosity Gives Municipal Leaders an Edge]

Criticism Contributes to Personal Growth as a Leader

This may sound counter-intuitive, but you will see little personal growth by listening only to allies and friends. This is not to say that they do not have wisdom to offer; friends can give you sound advice. However, introspection often begins with the critic. Working through objections or problems can force you to dig deeper and work on areas that you would not have noticed on your own. This is how you can accelerate your personal growth and become a better problem-solver and leader.

Identify the Critic’s Area of Strength

As you move through your public career, you will undoubtedly face a plethora of critics. If you are an effective leader, be wise and choose individuals who can provide critical feedback based on their areas of expertise. Stay in contact with them (I still call on critics I have known for 15 years to tear apart some ideas of my proposals!).

A wise leader learns from everyone. Take time to examine the life experiences of others and add the most appropriate ones to your list of resources. These “experts” can help you implement best practices and apply them to your specific outcomes.

[Related: A Municipal Manager Should View Council Members as Customers]

Step out of your comfort zone and embrace the critic’s cry, “That will never work!” Carefully weigh your response to this criticism and view it as an opportunity to refine your idea. Do not be too quick to rush into your presentation. Be diligent in your search for critics to help you discover the most important elements of your idea that, when honed and highlighted, will undoubtedly give you an advantage when it’s time to pitch that idea to others.

criticsAbout the Author: Buster Nicholson is a senior manager of Public Sector Outreach at American Public University. He has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and has worked as a public school teacher, an analyst for the United States Secret Service, a town administrator, and a director of public works. At APU, he works with directors, senior managers, and staff from state and local government entities to facilitate leadership growth through education and professional development. You can reach him at

Buster Nicholson is a manager of Public Sector Outreach. He has an M.A. in Public Administration and has worked as a public school teacher, analyst for the U.S. Secret Service, a town administrator, and a director of public works. At AMU, he works with directors and staff in state and local government to facilitate leadership growth through education and professional development.

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