The playing field of leadership comes with its corresponding team of color commentators who offer insights into everything you do. Everything, and I mean everything is on the table to critique. What kind of car you drive. Where you send your kids to school. The fact that you do send your kids to school. Choice of attire. Leadership decisions you’ve made. Leadership decisions you “should have” made. How much money people think you make. It’s all up for discussion with most of the dialog taking place behind the leaders back. For all these reasons and more any leader worth his salt has had bouts with discouragement, see Moses. Sometimes the critiques come from neutral people who are neither for you or against you. They just have something to say. Sometimes, however, the commentary is rooted in people who just don’t like you.
So what do we as leaders do with the onslaught of criticism that comes our way? My years in leadership have taught me ten valuable lessons in dealing with critics:
1. Grow Up, Bryan. Leadership is for grown folks. If I can appreciate the perks of leadership, of life in the public eye, then I also need to embrace the dark side. With the applause comes critique. So I’ve had to learn to stop whining and take the bitter with the sweet. If Jesus can have his Pharisees, what makes me think I won’t have mine? Stop complaining Bryan, and be a big boy.
2. Look again. Chances are that there’s an element of truth to their critiques. Stop being so defensive, and try to discern the nugget of truth that you need to embrace and apologize for. As the saying goes, “Turn your critics into coaches”.
3. Humility. I have found that my critics have been used to work humility into me. In my early days of preaching I would say just some really hard things in a really hard way. What has buffed off those rough edges have been the critiques of congregants who offered me a nicer way of saying things, often times in an ironically not so nice way. I’m a lot more tactful because my critics have been used in a redemptive way to work humility into me (still need more).
4. Love. Your critics don’t need to be tolerated, they need to be loved.
5. Six Bullets. Whenever I catch wind of someone who has said something about me that I don’t like I immediately want to rush in and deal with the person and the issue. At this stage of the game however, if I took that route I would literally not have time to do anything productive. I have to remember I only have six bullets and I can’t shoot at everything.
6. Your Spouse. When I first got married I was coached to share everything with Korie. However, I’ve had to learn the hard way that this is not always the best advice. Korie’s fiercely loyal to me, and will tend to internalize attacks on her husband in a way that makes her angry and bitter. My role as a protector demands that I guard what I share with her.
7. Don’t get bitter. Moses’ failure to deal well with his haters barred him from the promised land. Don’t let bitterness rob you of what God has for you.
8. Be courageous. It’s easy to write sermons directly for those who speak against you and turn the pulpit into a firing range. Don’t do this, because quite frankly that’s cowardice. Deal with them in private. I think that’s where Matthew 18 would have us to begin.
9. Seek reconciliation. If your critics profess Christ seek to be reconciled with them in Christ. If they don’t know Jesus, so deal with them that they would want to know this God you claim to have saved you. One of the true tests of Christianity is how you handle those who mistreat you. But at the end of the day it takes two to reconcile. This is why Romans 12:18 is given to us.
10. Keep it moving. There comes a time when that email needs to be deleted, the anonymous note thrown away or the phone call forgotten. You've just got to move on.