My Advice for Responding to Criticism (Don’t)
If you are a leader you are going to be criticized. Period. And if you are a significant leader you are going to be severely criticized. It honestly doesn’t matter if you are a good leader or not. That is just how it is. People criticize leaders. Always have. Always will. Get used to it.
I am sometimes asked how I deal with criticism and my response is simple. I don’t. I don’t defend myself. I don’t vilify people who criticize me. I don’t lash out. I don’t really think much about criticism at all. Frankly, my critics are not who I am trying to please.
If you feel called to lead but feel a bit “thin skinned” at times, here is some advice from a guy who has been in the trenches of leadership for a few decades:
- Base decisions on your organizational mission Let your mission statement guide you and make strategic decisions to move it forward. The right decision for your mission is always the right decision.
- Realize that criticism is inevitable No matter what you do, how successful you are or how good your past decisions may have been, you are going to be criticized. Don’t be naïve. It comes with the territory.
- Take heart that criticism gets to you less as time goes on Blisters turn to calluses and skin really does get thicker over time. The longer you lead, the tougher you get.
- Make sure to guard your personal integrity Don’t give critics extra ammunition due to your own carelessness or lack of integrity. Failure to self manage will destroy you as a leader. Unfair or undue criticism will not.
- Let people know your rationale “Because I am the boss” is the worst rational in the world for making a tough decision. Don’t be defensive or terse in the face of criticism. Be open and approachable. Let people know you have thought through things, listened to others and made your call. There is nothing weak about giving an explanation.
- Realize you won’t always get it right Leaders are not perfect; they just have the courage to make the tough calls, learn from their mistakes and make the next tough call. You won’t be perfect either. No one gets them all right. You just need to get the big ones right.
- Don’t read your own press (good or bad) You are never as good as your friends think or as bad as your enemies think. Some of the best decisions I have made as a leader were the most hotly criticized. Heat ebbs and flows. Good decisions hold firm.
- Square up with God Before you go to bed each night, look into the mirror. Make sure both you and God are good with the leader you see and how you went about business that day. If the two of you are squared up, let the world work around you. And sleep like a baby.
- Pray Prayer in the midst of tough calls is a sign of strength, not weakness. Ask God for wisdom. It is a prayer God always wants to answer.
- Trust God to protect your reputation I truly believe God protects the godly.
Leaders have to make tough decisions. If all decisions were easily made, you would not need leaders. Criticism is inevitable. Criticism can hurt. Absorb it. Take it to God. Let your mission guide you. Lead!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church has been the Sr. Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.