Written by Kristin Harrington

This past weekend, I was at a kids’ sporting event alongside nearly 200 other parents and small children. It was the first introduction to the sport, a three-year-old league just getting started. And it was absolute chaos.

The parents were unsure where to go or what to do, and the volunteers leading the event were ill-equipped to do so. What started as a day of anticipated fun quickly devolved into frustration, complaints, tears, and criticisms, with parents lamenting the poorly organized nature of the event and kids asking to leave.

On the car ride home, I joined in the critical chorus to my husband, “That was a terrible display of leadership. They had no idea what they were doing.” My negativity reflected the poor experience my family had just had. I assumed my husband would respond in turn – the wrong assumption. He said, “Kristin, these are volunteers doing their best to lead while not necessarily having the training or proper resources. As a leadership coach, you should know better. And, if you don’t like it, consider volunteering next time.” Eek…that shut me up quickly.

It took less than a few seconds to realize he was right. I’ve had the privilege to be around many best-in-class leaders; it’s easy to forget how tough leadership can be. I quickly recalled some of my early, less-than-best days of leading teams. And even some recent missteps of my own. My own experiences were chaotic, not unlike what I had just participated in that morning.

While we inherit around 30% of our leadership skills through our personality and related traits, 70% of leadership skills are learned and developed over time. That means most leadership skills must be taught; they don’t come to us alone. With intentionality, we can all learn to be better leaders. And even the very best leaders can continue to improve through training and coaching.

Here were my big takeaways from the post-event car ride home:

It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines. I was “that person” standing along the sidelines, leveling criticisms at the people in the game, trying their hardest. Don’t be me. If you’re questioning the approach, throw your hat in the ring and lead. You can’t inspire and influence from the sidelines, and it’s best to refrain from criticizing the people out there trying.

Leadership is tough. I’ll write it again – leading is tough. No one is born the best version of a leader. We can all learn and improve every single day. Seek leadership coaching, training, and other development opportunities to hone your skills. You don’t have to struggle alone.

Shrug off the haters; focus on improving. Critical voices will always be against your efforts when you step up to lead. The more you do, the more people will have something to say about it – positive or negative. Develop a filter. Pay attention to the criticisms that are warranted and helpful for improving your ability to inspire and influence; learn to shut out the outright critics who are negative for negativity’s sake. Remember, leadership is tough. Haters make it tougher.

I ate a big piece of humble pie this weekend and am glad I did. I forgot for a minute how difficult this thing called leadership can be, and I’m grateful to my husband for setting me straight.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through an innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.