Elbert Hubbard quipped, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Because leaders cannot afford to do nothing or say nothing, being criticized comes with the territory of being a leader. In leadership, affirmation today does not mean affirmation tomorrow. In many ways leaders face the same volatility as coaches who can, within a few games, go from being lauded as team chemistry geniuses, program architects, and master recruiters to ignorant, foolish risk-takers, and ineffective. Leaders are one decision, one quarter, one bad message away from unfair criticism.
Criticism is going to come. Those who handle it well have these five character traits:
Leaders who handle criticism well are humble. While they don’t agree with all their critics, they also know they are not always right, not infallible, and not invincible. It takes humility not to overreact.
Criticism always hurts. I have interacted with many leaders who are perceived as being unscathed by critics but deep down are wounded. What enables them to work through the criticism ultimately isn’t tough skin but hearts that are tender for people who are being served. Their love for people is what keeps them going. Leaders who love the people they serve won’t let critics keep them from serving.
Leaders who are filled with a deep conviction for their assignment are less likely to be distracted by criticism. If a leader lacks conviction, the leader will be swayed by every opinion. If a leader is convinced in the direction, criticism may hurt but it won’t derail.
Wise leaders are able to discern what criticism should be discarded and what criticism should be contemplated and learned from. Because they are able to wisely disregard the criticism that should be disregarded, they are able to continue leading without being crushed.
Approval junkies make for poor leaders. The good news is that those of us who know the Lord and are His have already found our approval. Criticism won’t change the reality that we are already approved in Christ. Only by following Jesus can you love people and not be crushed if they don’t love you. If our identity is in Him, we are not destroyed when our leadership is questioned, when people we serve don’t appreciate our service.