Wealth

Why Self-Criticism is the Secret Weapon of Successful Leaders

Too often, leaders rush to conclusions without substantial evidence. Worse yet, some executives will only choose to believe evidence that aligns with their preconceived notions, exhibiting a pernicious form of confirmation bias.

Afflictions such as a pronounced sense of superiority, an inability to attribute culpability, complacency with the status quo, authoritarianism, and formalism pose grave threats. When confronted with adversity, one never engages in introspection regarding one’s own missteps.

However, promptly rectifying one’s errors remains the paramount catalyst for the prosperity of most enterprises and entrepreneurs. This necessitates that entrepreneurs and managers possess the capacity for critical and independent thought.

Indeed, if an entrepreneur can truly acknowledge their mistakes and continually engage in self-critique, that must inevitably constitute the most expeditious path to success!

A life bereft of self-criticism is akin to a soulless, ambulatory corpse. In his speech “He who emerges from the quagmire is a saint,” Ren Zhengfei profoundly elucidated the paramount importance of self-criticism to a company’s development, a sentiment worthy of our collective endorsement.

Without self-criticism, we shall never truly embody a customer-centric ethos nor remain vigilant of industry and market trends. In such a case, we shall inevitably descend into solipsism and be expunged by the fiercely competitive market environment.

Without self-criticism, when we confront every challenge and crisis, we cannot engage in profound self-reflection, self-motivation, and harness the glimmer of life to ignite the team’s morale and illuminate the path forward.

Without self-criticism, our thinking shall remain mired in outmoded ways, unable to humbly assimilate advanced foreign concepts, treating the one-third of an acre we possess as a daily treasure, only to eventually discover it is naught.

Without self-criticism, we shall be unable to maintain a restrained and pragmatic cultural ethos, becoming arrogant and oblivious due to modest achievements, ultimately stumbling into pitfalls along the road ahead.

Without self-criticism, it is impossible to eliminate ineffective elements within organizations and processes, establish a high-quality management system, and reduce operational costs.

Without self-criticism, if cadres at all levels cannot speak truthfully, heed criticism, learn, or progress, they cannot ensure sound decision-making or effective implementation.

Therefore, only those who persistently engage in self-criticism can cultivate a broad mind; only companies that persistently engage in self-criticism can possess a luminous future.

We must first accurately comprehend self-criticism. Some contend self-criticism entails admitting mistakes. Others posit it involves discerning one’s shortcomings from others. Still others assert it suppresses enthusiasm.

In truth, we advocate self-criticism, not suppressing criticism. Why not encourage criticism? Because criticism targets others. Most cannot grasp its importance and risk causing hurt. Self-criticism means critiquing oneself, an act most approach mercifully. Even a feather duster’s gentle strokes can achieve the desired effect.

Before discussing self-criticism, we must clarify it does not refer to a leader’s self-reflection after erring, fleetingly acknowledging their mistake inwardly to assuage guilt. Rather, it denotes an internal dialogue. In prosperous times, one questions if they can improve, and in adversity, one analyzes its root causes.

Secondly, as an enterprise leader, regardless of shortcomings, expecting subordinates to critique you is unreliable, as your position exerts pressure, inhibiting candor. If you wish to harness criticism’s power to remain grounded and progress, self-criticism is your sole recourse.

Moreover, even if someone offers well-intentioned advice you know is correct, you will inevitably resist or grow indignant. None wish to hear unflattering truths about themselves, leaders included. Rather than enduring others’ criticism and displeasure, self-criticism proves more effective.

Only after accepting these conditions and rationales can we further explore self-criticism.

Of course, a final caveat: deliberate, purposeless self-criticism may lead to depression and permanent disillusionment. This warrants particular vigilance!

To truly master self-criticism, we must learn from Huawei. Ren Zhengfei not only advocates self-criticism but practices it fervently. Self-criticism constitutes a core Huawei value. He critiques himself more harshly and thoroughly than others.

Openness, nuance, tolerance, compromise, and self-criticism form the core tenets of Ren Zhengfei’s management philosophy.

At Huawei, management criticism is even harsher, such as:

“Avoid the infantile malady of management. Management should focus on maximizing yields and enhancing land fertility.”

“Management must be simple and effective.”

“Management must understand business and support the front line.”

“Resolutely oppose perfectionism in management.”

“Resolutely oppose trivial philosophizing.”

“Oppose metaphysics and seek truth from facts.”

“Oppose involving those without practical business experience in change.”

“The key to change management is implementation.”

“Openness, Compromise, Nuance.”

“Management must grasp core contradictions and their primary aspects.”

“Management should focus on process-based organizational development.”

These critique poor corporate management practices. Criticism also permeates various departments:

HR: excessive control, overly centralized power, etc.
Finance: personnel must understand business, etc.
Legal: Litigation is not the goal, but rather robust “fire prevention” measures.
Processes and IT: Processes that do not produce value are redundant and must be simplified.
Audit: One cannot be friend or foe. Many gradients exist between the two extremes.

Furthermore, the company’s criticism of employees stems from a desire for hard work and contribution:

“The company evaluates people pragmatically, not based on lofty ideals, but actual contributions.”

“Compensation reflects contribution and ability to sustain it, not academic degrees, tenure, titles, or internal relations.”

“There are only two paths for employees to alter their destiny at Huawei: work hard or make outstanding contributions.”

“We do not admit inefficiencies. If dumplings cannot be removed from a teapot, occupying it constitutes high cost.”

“We must improve efficiency, not work overtime for its own sake or engage in formalism.”

“True, absolute fairness does not exist; do not expect too much in this regard.”

Huawei’s multi-dimensional, multi-angled self-criticism cannot be fully enumerated here. It hopes cadres and employees will continue growing and gaining experience through self-criticism to better drive business development.

To conduct organizational self-criticism, first create an atmosphere conducive to criticism and self-criticism.

Self-criticism is the rearview mirror of deep thought, used to correct blind spots in your counterattack process. One’s growth rate depends on how quickly one discovers previous ignorance.

If at 50 you realize you were ignorant the first half of life, you have only grown and iterated once in 50 years.

If this month you discovered last month’s ignorance, congratulations, you have iterated and improved in one month.

Ignorance itself is not terrible; failing to recognize one’s ignorance is. The most effective self-criticism uses others as a mirror to reflect one’s problems.

Secondly, the boss must lead by example: stand atop the highest peak and charge down.

Proceed by age: human nature—the older, the harder to accept criticism.

First, take turns critiquing, discussing one’s own and others’ strengths and weaknesses.

Critique yourself again, unveiling innermost feelings to the team, letting them understand you.

List breakthroughs as practical action plans and metrics.

Review and correct deviations the following month.

We must clarify a correct concept: we know we erred, correct ourselves through self-criticism, and vigorously promote the self-criticism culture of “those who emerge from the quagmire are saints.”

In summary, only when the boss has a clear life positioning and core values can they gain a newer understanding of self-criticism and possess a great life mission. This is the core essence of a company becoming stronger and larger!

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