One of the Things Every Leader Fears Most and How to Overcome It?

One of the Things Every Leader Fears Most and How to Overcome It?

In a world of hyperconnectivity, when almost any seeming “rando” can post whatever they’d like, when they’d like, how’d they like, all while remaining relatively anonymous, what is the one thing every leader fears the most and how do we overcome it? 

Two weeks ago, our leadership team was scrolling through survey results of a recent training we had led when we had to endure the one thing every leader fears most: a negative review about the service we provided.  If you are a leader, you’ve had to deal with criticism, hurtful or destructive comments, negative reviews, or disappointment in a product or service you are promoting.  The sad truth about being a leader is that you are put under a microscope nearly every day and held into account (rightly or wrongly) on what you offer the world. The other sad truth is that no matter how much we’d like to please and impress everyone, we simply can’t.   

For example, through our mission of helping the world to listen, we may be able to communicate easily with those who inherently understand the value of good listening and how much of a game-changer it can be in human relationships.  On the other hand, if someone doesn’t see the value in our services, entering an eight-hour training with negative preconceived notions, it’s almost inevitable that said person will be disappointed with some of the messages communicated throughout the day.  

What said person does with those disappointments is often outside our control, but does affect us deeply which raises the question: 

What should every leader do when we receive a negative review?  

We remember hearing from a start-up restaurant owner who had received a negative Yelp review their first week in business.  The customer wrote that the service wasn’t strong, and that it took what they felt like was forever to receive their food.  The restaurant owner stated that, “Not only was the comment hurtful and unhelpful, but it was straight-up destructive.  My business took weeks if not months to recover, let alone the emotional trauma it caused in me. In fact, I’m still living with PTSD from that experience, and think about it almost every day, fearing when the next proverbial shoe may drop, crushing my already fragile dreams and aspirations.  What the reviewer didn’t know was that I had only two additional employees at the time, one of whom called off due to Covid, leaving me even more short-handed.  A huge crowd showed up the first week and I was both excited and totally overwhelmed.  I didn’t know what to do with my feelings after the Yelp Review, and the depression and exhaustion they caused in me nearly cost me the business, literally and figuratively.”  

Through our listening work in the corporate sector, we are continually reminded that we ALL need ‘someone to tell it to’.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Fortune 500 CEO, an owner of the local pizza shop down the street, a small business owner, or growing non-profit, we all need to have those ‘someone to tell it to’s’ in our lives.  For example, a small business has been contracting Someone To Tell It To’s team of listeners to come on site once a month to listen to each employee, including the leaders of the company.  Each employee is given the time, space, and undivided attention needed to feel heard. Points of conversation range from personal to professional in nature – conversations revolving around grief, disappointment, anger, unsettledness, negative survey results, and anything else that may be weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of the team.  In addition to being on site to listen, the Someone To Tell It To team has been providing skills and modeling what it looks like to create a culture of openness, reflection, dialogue, and genuinely healthy relationships.  One employee has openly stated to the STTIT Team: “I look forward to the people from Someone To Tell It To coming to listen to us. It’s the best part of my month and makes me want to keep working here.”

In the spirit of practicing what we preach about “cultivating meaningful relationships and training and educating others to do the same”, what did our team do when we received the negative survey result?  We gave each other the time, space, intentionality, and undivided attention needed to process how it felt to receive that result. We communicated to one another that we are a team and that we rise and fall together and no one falls on the sword by themselves. We emphasized that we are proud of one another for the hard work we put forth. And then we took time to analyze the survey, taking out the points worth holding on to for improvement purposes.  

But here’s the thing, in this particular survey there wasn’t one helpful suggestion for how to improve our services.  

So, we emailed the person who wrote it and asked if they could offer us some suggestions on how we could improve. We want to convey to the reviewer that we take the critique seriously and are genuinely interested in learning how they believe we could do better.  We haven’t gotten a response from them yet. But we thought it was worth the try. In light of the negative review, we have done our own assessment of the training and together as a team we have reordered and re-structured it in a way that we thought might work better for groups. We figured it wouldn’t hurt to take our own second look to determine if anything could be better. 

Just this past weekend, our training team led a two-day seminar on compassionate listening, using the refreshed curriculum. It was the largest class yet for this particular kind of training. It went exceedingly well, and the comments and feedback from the participants have been glowing. Here is one representative of them:

I found the seminars in listening to be very well-organized, engaging, informative, and energizing. The core group of leaders worked well together, and created a positive climate for learning and growth. After 34 years in education and having attended many in-service programs , STTIT’s 2-day listening certification was among the best seminars.  ~High School Educator

And here are two reviews of the listening work Someone To Tell It To models:

Someone To Tell It To is devoted to listening to others. Even when what they’re listening to at times, can be difficult to hear. They’ll laugh with you, cry with you and uphold you. No judgment here! Just unconditional love and compassion to those who need “someone to tell it to”. I can attest to this first hand. My life has purpose and meaning all because they listened.

All of us, at some point in our lives, deal with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, or loneliness. We don’t get past those feelings until we share them. STTIT makes it a purpose to be there to listen, allowing anyone to share their pain without being required to hear advice or criticism. This is, perhaps, the most pure expression of love.

Our team has never been more proud of the training than they are after this past weekend’s seminar. We took a look at what seems to be working and at a few things that could be better from our perspectives. It was a useful and helpful exercise. One of our values is to be excellent at what we do. We are always striving – with good reviews and those that are not as good – to discern how we can keep on growing and inspiring and help the world to listen in better and better ways.


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