Who’s that one person you can call on to lend you an honest ear when you really need it                                                  Copyright: sifotography / 123RF Stock Photo











The concept of the ‘critical friend’ is something that’s booming in organisations, particularly among leadership teams. It’s that person you can turn to when you need someone to be completely honest with you and look at the organisation in through different eyes.

They should be neutral and, although the word critical is uses, this person isn’t there to judge you. It’s more about being truthful and challenging you. They can’t be a ‘Yes man’ who’ll simply agree with everything you say, but they have to feel comfortable enough to be able to speak out.

As the head of an organisation, finding your critical friend is really important, but perhaps it’s more difficult for you than it is for others. They can always turn to someone higher up the ladder they know well or have worked with before to act as a mentor.

So, if you’re at the top of the tree in an organisation, how do you go about choosing your critical friend?

The simple answer is there’s no simple answer. Actual friends can sometimes make good critical friends, but be careful of the ‘Yes man’ situation mentioned earlier. There’s also a chance you might fall out eventually so maybe this is best avoided.

Perhaps there’s a CEO or managing director of another organisation you can ask. Obviously avoid a direct competitor, but if there’s someone you know and trust well enough, this could be the answer. They’ll appreciate you thinking of them and like giving help and advice. You could even offer to be their critical friend in return so you can both benefit.

Some CEOs take the step of using a business professional as their critical friend. It could be their accountant, solicitor or a business consultant. They can work as great sounding-boards and have bags of experience to call on, but this option will cost you, as they’re unlikely to do it for free.

Whoever you choose though, you need to understand what a critical friend should be used for, and what they can do for your organisation. This includes:

  • Giving an independent view of the organisation
    Understanding the organisation’s vision, both long and short-term
    Offering strategic advice
    Having complete confidentiality and impartiality
    Generating ideas on growth and pushing the organisation forward

They’re not there to provide the answers, but to give you insight and provide an alternative way of looking at things. They’ll know what your strengths (and weaknesses) are, and actively want to help.

An outsider can see things you can’t, spot opportunities you might have missed and assist you in making better decisions. In other words, a critical friend could prove invaluable.

Choose wisely.