Whenever you lead up, whenever you seek to solve meaningful problems, whenever you take intentional steps to build a career that matters, there will be no lack of people giving you feedback and “input.”
From what I can tell, whenever you do the emotional work of putting yourself out there, taking responsibility for an unmet need or problem, there will likely be someone there scoffing or suggesting. And too yet often, these suggesters are unwilling to get dirty and provide a solution with their critiques or jump in the trenches with you.
From my experience, we humans love to complain and criticize without proactively being part of a solution. It’s the path of least resistance. My challenge to myself (and you!), is that when we have criticism or suggestions, we bring them with possible solutions and we find ways we can contribute to the solutions we offer. Every A-players I know takes responsibility and spends less time criticising, complaining or blindly suggesting and more time actually doing.
There will never be a lack of armchair critics, idea-only people, and well-intentioned fools unsolicitedly offering their ’shoulds’, yet failing to step up, take responsibility, and and actually do the work to make change happen.
And guess what, that’s okay. It’s part of life.
The skill we must develop as leaders is figuring out how to make these friends feel validated and significant. Yet we must be self aware enough to know who to listen to. We must become adept at knowing when to take input to heart, and when to kindly acknowledge the input, make the input-er feel heard, then swiftly get back to crushing it.
If you listen to no one, you can become myopic and proud, unchecked and inflexible. And if you listen to them all, you’ll find yourself mired in self-doubt, unsureness, fomo, and with soft resolve. This selective listening while maintaining focus is a skill; one that matures the more you face criticism and suggestions as you do meaningful work.
The conventional wisdom I’m seeing from many other thought leaders is to rid your life of these type of people. They tell us to get rid of negative people, ignore the haters completely, and scoff at the scoffers. But I’d like to challenge that.
I’ve seen it done differently. Sure, hatin’ the haters is the easy route (just like complaining or criticising — it’s the other side of the same coin in some ways). And yes, there is a time to tune out this feedback completely. It may even be biblical (see Proverbs 9:8 below). But we must have grace and choose to engage. How will we ever invite others into a higher good — a better story — in their work and life, if all we do brush them off.
I’m learning that leadership isn’t just leading the agreeables, the playmakers, and the responsibility-takers. It means working to seek the highest good of even the criticizers, the scoffers, and the suggesters.
 This of course is a paraphrase. Proverbs 9:8a is "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you..."