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Leadership When Faced With Criticism

Caught off guard:

A guy yells “Your band sucks!” to Eddie Vedder – at the height of grunge as the singer of Pearl Jam was minding his own business walking across the public area of Chicago Metro’s backstage.

Lesson in Leadership:

In life and in business, people confront us at times when we may be focused on other issues or working to achieve our wildly important goals. Sometimes, it is not a big deal. Other times, it feels like someone just told us our band sucks. Our reactions to people who are aggressive can directly impact effectiveness as a leader. As immediately satisfying as it could be to flip that person off, it limits a leader’s effectiveness in the long run.

Here is my story: As a drummer, I was in bands based out of Chicago for close to 20 years. In 1995, one of my bands played a late show at the Metro after an early show featuring Hovercraft, Foo Fighters and Mike Watt’s All-Star Band. Hovercraft featured Eddie Vedder and his wife and, at the time, Eddie was a part of Mike Watt’s All-Star Band in between responsibilities he had as the frontman for Pearl Jam.

As I was setting up my drums in the backstage area near the main entrance, Eddie was walking across to get to the private backstage rooms. As Eddie was walking past, a guy yelled, “Your band sucks!” I looked up and saw Eddie stop, turn around, walk toward the gate between the entrance and backstage, and extend his hand to the guy and his friends.

For some reason, that moment has stuck with me for years – and its significance to me has changed. As a leader, it’s much harder to extend our hand than to respond with frustration or even anger when confronted in an unexpected manner. Listening and engaging is all part of good leadership.

There are a lot of good books and articles covering emotional intelligence and psychology in the workplace. Many of these resources help people identify triggers leading to ineffective behavior as a leader and to then overcome them. A book I’ve been reading to help me reflect on my behaviors as a leader and become more productive is How to Have A Good Day by Caroline Webb. Specific to this observation in leadership story, she addresses our personal filters and how they influence our reactions. It has taken me years to develop the skills to not react in a negative manner when confronted – recognizing the trigger and redirecting instinctual behaviors to learned behaviors.

When I think back to Eddie Vedder extending his hand that night, I am amazed at the maturity he displayed and how he overcame natural fight-or-flight instincts to engage someone who just belittled his band. As leaders, we react to confrontation each day, and how we react reflects on our character and can help us achieve many good days ahead.

Summary of concepts

Criticism is out there: Regardless of who you are or what you have accomplished – someone is going to have a different opinion and may or may not confront you with their opinion.

Character: How you react can leave a lasting impression (positive or negative) for years beyond the incident.

Filters: Identifying triggers and learning to apply positive behaviors to bypass pre-conceived negativity can lead to better outcomes and make you a better leader.

In life, there are embarrassing, painful, challenging, stressful, enjoyable and fulfilling moments. Often, these moments pass, and we move on to the next task. But I’ve resolved to share these moments and relate them to leadership.

Just like life, leadership is messy. I’m not insinuating I’m an expert in leadership. I am a student in observing emotion and behavior related to inspiration, teamwork, frustration, adaptability and success (or failure). With this in mind, I’ll be sharing moments – relating them to leadership and hoping these stories may inspire you to build resiliency and expand your leadership toolbelt through your moments.

For a diversion from productivity, check out this story about Foo Fighters at Metro in 2017 with a reference to their show in 1995.