“Don’t take it personally, even if they meant it personally.”

Someone once said, “If they don’t know you personally, don’t take what they say personally.” Nothing others say or do is because of you. What they say and do is a projection of their own reality, the estimation of their own value and their own dream. When you become immune to the opinions and actions of others, you are no longer a victim of needles pain and regret.

Great leaders never personalize the words or actions of those they lead. When team members question their leaders, the worst way to respond is to take it personally. Most of the time, their questions, regardless of how they are raised or stated, are statements about their own mindset—particularly their own needs, motives and fears.

To the leader who is listening carefully, these challenges provide reliable clues about the performance of their team members, about poor communication, misunderstandings and misinterpretation of current events. It’s these critical moments that give leaders the chance to be seen as human. The less defensive behavior a leader demonstrates, the more effective they are in all aspects of their leadership.

Leaders are not perfect. The sooner they accept that, the sooner their followers can relate to them as a human beings and not as infallible supermen. Even the greatest leaders make mistakes, errors in judgement and fail to meet the expectations of their followers. Does that make them failures? No. It makes them human and easier to follow.

How you respond when your humanness is exposed and criticized determines the effectiveness and longevity of your leadership. If you respond with an attitude of denial, avoidance of responsibility and ignore reality, you will lose credibility and the trust of your team. If not corrected, eventually you will lose the opportunity to lead.

My dad used to say, “If you can’t lead with fifteen to twenty percent of your followers being upset with you at any given time, you are not ready to lead.” Honest criticism is needed and productive. Negativity flows from people who have issues they have not fixed. It may be that they’ve never had the chance, don’t know how, or simply don’t want to.

Great leaders aren’t resistant to criticism. In fact, they seek it out. However, they never take it personally. They use it to become better, not bitter. How do you handle criticism? How do you respond to those who deliver it?