Editorial: When it comes to reacting to criticism, Lori Lightfoot needs much better advice

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

In the courtroom, or in a campaign debate, winning often means demolishing the credibility of your opponent. But when it comes to leadership, different rules apply.

Somebody close to the notoriously thin-skinned Mayor Lori Lightfoot needs to point out this abiding truth.

Take, for example, the mayor’s reaction to questions about comments made by Chris Kempczinski, CEO of McDonald’s, in a recent talk at the Economic Club of Chicago. Kempczinski took strikingly pointed aim at the business climate in his company’s home city, noting the growing notoriety for violence, the loss of key corporate headquarters of companies such as Boeing and Citadel and the new difficulty in hiring top international talent to come and work in Chicago. We thought he made a lot of sense, as did many others who applauded him.

Here’s what we think Lightfoot should have said when asked about Kempczinski’s comments: “I might not agree with everything Mr. Kempczinski said, but I’ve already asked him to come into City Hall with his top staffers and bring his solutions to these problems we all share. I pledge my partnership with one of our most valued corporate partners to solve all the difficulties that Chicago clearly faces. And I appreciate his speaking so frankly about a city he clearly loves.

Here is what Lightfoot actually said, as reported in the Tribune: “What would have been helpful is for the McDonald’s CEO to educate himself before he spoke.”

Does anyone other than Lightfoot and her advisers actually believe that Kempczinski’s comments reflected a lack of preparation and/or education? On the contrary, he merely was articulating what anyone even remotely paying attention knows to be true.

From there, Lightfoot merely put her spin on what is happening in the city. Sure, there is some good news and Lightfoot was right to note it, but the issue here was the way she framed this situation.

She reacted defensively, further opening up what is clearly a rift between her inner circle and the broader business community. And she also said that she was going to focus on the “good news” and not Kempczinski’s comments.

She should, of course, be focusing on both of those things.

Criticism is hard to take for anyone, but it’s part of the job of being mayor. And when the critic has power, moral authority and huge economic clout, you listen. You don’t call the person uneducated or say that you refuse to listen.

That’s not leadership, that is the sowing of division.

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