Being self-critical as a leader can both help and hinder

Jeff Immelt, the boss of US giant General Electric, recently attributed his long survival in the top job to being extremely tough on himself.

“I think you cannot do a job like this for so long unless you are horribly self-critical”, he said. He continued, “You have to be massively self-aware, because, if you are not, it is so easy to be blind (to problems)”.

Certainly it is important for a leader to be self-critical, in so far as this is an important aspect of self-awareness; and the associated humility and modesty associated with being self-critical will help a leader from becoming over-reaching or arrogant as to his or her abilities, which carries its own dangers.

Self-awareness is itself undoubtedly a positive leadership trait; a leader must understand himself or herself, before all others.

However, the leader needs to consider how visible to others their self-criticism is. If the leader is too self-critical, it could undermine others’ confidence in the leader or in the vision he or she has or the direction to pursue.

Ronald Reagan once said, “a leader, once convinced that a particular course of action is right, must be undaunted when the going is tough”.

Psychometric assessment tools, and 360 degree tools, can provide insights for a leader into how self-critical, and self-aware, they are, and how this might impact upon different aspects of their leadership activity.