Photo courtesy of Innovation Excellence

I was watching an episode of Top Chef Just Desserts wherein Cat Cora, the only female Iron Chef, was the guest judge. I could not help but notice how complementary and nice she was to the contestants, even when offering her critiques which was a contrast to the other judges. The other judges, especially the head judge, were particularly critical of the contestants. Even when offering credits, the other judges had to inject some criticisms in a way that could have been more constructive. What came to mind is how Cat Cora acted like she has nothing to prove, which given her accomplishments, probably does not.  i do not follow the show and I do not personally know the judges so the roles they play and the way they act may jut be what they have been told to do. This weekend, I was watching an NFL (professional football) recap show and there were two announcers discussing Tim Tebow’s performance. Tebow is one of those players that seem to polarize football fans. for some reason.  One analyst refers to Tebow’s fans as “apologists” to which the other announcer promptly says “faitfhfuls”.  In my career, what I have noticed is that those who don’t seem to have much to prove are less critical of others compared to those who seem to have the need to criticize others to boost themselves and their positions.  Even in criticizing the work of others, these leaders who have nothing to prove do it in a way that preserve the dignity of the other person being criticized. I must admit that I’ve  fallen into this trap early in my career but as I progressed throughout my career, I’ve been careful not to be so critical of others and realize the areas I need improvement on.

In my career, I have had the pleasure of working with leaders like Cat Cora. One person in particular is my mentor, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UCSB Dr. Michael Young.  One of the many attributes I admire about Dr. Young is his humility and his diplomatic approach to his work. It is rare that Dr. Young offer criticisms and when he does, he does it in a way that does not degrade the other person.  Another quality of Dr. Young that I emulate is treating everyone like they matter, regardless of their position in the organization. It does not really matter to Dr. Young whatever age, race or sexual orientation he is speaking with. He will take the time to talk to anyone with the same level of respect and attention. There are other leaders I admire who carry themselves like they have nothing to prove and in addition to the qualities I admire about Dr. Young, these leaders have another thing in common – they don’t take themselves too seriously.  They don’t use their position/stature as some form of immunity from light jokes or from the admission that they don’t know everything. As a matter of fact, I think I’ve heard more “I don’t know the answer” from these leaders than some of the folks I’ve worked with who seem to have answer for everything.

I think we have all been subjects of criticisms. In the past, I felt like I had to justify/apologize for my work but I came to realize that I was doing the best I could at that point in time in my career. I have just learned to laugh the criticisms off knowing that they came from only a couple of individuals and not representative of my work.  I’ve learned to focus on building others and making sure that the culture in my organization promotes creativity and recognition of what my colleagues contribute. I know I have much to learn and all I could do is to continue learning from others and on my own. There’s a sense of freedom in accepting that I’m not the smartest person in my organization, or the most talented. This perspective allows me room to be inquisitive, to learn from others, and also make mistake from time to time.