The Untruth of “There Is Truth in Every Criticism”

You have likely heard the cliché, “there is a grain of truth in every criticism.” It is usually offered to leaders as an encouragement to look for some truth in every criticism they face, to carefully evaluate themselves in the light of what someone has said about them, a decision they have made, or an action they have taken. Yes — wise leaders are always evaluating themselves, seeking to grow and mature, and are open to correction, but no — the “there is a grain of truth in every criticism” is not true. Not every criticism has truth in it. Some criticism does and wise leaders learn from rebukes that are grounded in substance and adjust their leadership. But some criticism should be completely disregarded. Here are three reasons not to believe “every criticism has some truth in it:”

1. The cliché makes the critic the source of truth.

The truth rests not in the critic or the one being criticized but in the actual reality, but the cliché that all criticism has some truth in it makes the person leveling the criticism the source of ultimate truth. Equally wrong would be to say, “There is some wisdom in every decision any leader makes.” That would be equally ridiculous. Some leaders have made terrible decisions and made them with selfish and horrible motivations, and we would never want to say “there is some wisdom in there somewhere.”

2. The cliché over-empowers the critic and disempowers the one being criticized.

If the cliché is true, then all a critic has to do is declare a plethora of untrue things because “surely one of them is true.”

3. The cliché can send the one being criticized on an unhelpful quest.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical, yet common, scenario. Imagine a leader who is walking in humility and makes a wise decision in community. The leader is criticized and the criticism is completely unwarranted and inaccurate. Is it good for that leader to search for truth in the untruthful criticism? Of course not. If the leader heeds the cliché, the leader deploys unnecessary amounts of time and mental energy towards something that is completely untrue. Some criticism is not grounded in reality and searching for truth in it can cause people to tirelessly search for truth where there is none.

Leaders, you are going to be criticized. It is part of the price of being a leader. But don’t be enslaved and burdened with an untrue and unhelpful cliché – that every criticism you face has some truth in it. Yes, some of the criticisms you will face does. Learn from those and adjust. But some criticism is not grounded in reality, and to look for truth where there is none is bad stewardship of your time and energy.