If you have been in leadership for any length of time you know that you will always get criticized and that criticism always changes you as a leader, whether in a good way or a bad way. Unhappy people tend to attack the point person. We see this throughout the Bible, when Moses was leading his people through the desert they were constantly complaining and criticizing. His own family criticized him, yet he persevered through it and grew as a leader. Here are some guidelines we can learn from Moses and other leaders in the Bible on how to handle criticism:
- Maintain Your Humility – Humility is one of the most powerful traits of a great leader. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less. Humility allows you to look past the criticism and look for the nuggets of truth that can help you grow or make changes that truly help move you forward in your vision. Humility helps a leader be less defensive.
- Face the Criticism Squarely – Great leader’s go directly to the person criticizing and listens to them. This allows the leader to correct misunderstandings, redirect people that are off-base and cast vision for why we do what we do. This is hard work, but necessary if you want to lead well.
- Be Specific About The Issues – Great leader’s are very clear. Don’t dance around the topic of criticism, be specific. Push the person criticizing to be specific and give examples. Ask them what they think would be a better way or what other options might be available. Also be willing to apologize if you were not clear in something you communicated.
- Understand the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism – Who benefits? Challenge the person if the criticism is destructive and meant to hurt instead of help. If you are asking for feedback on a regular basis and seeking criticism it will often turn destructive criticism into constructive. This takes intentional vision casting and expressing an openness to listen. If people feel safe to tell you something they don’t like, they are more likely to come to you. If you bite their head off when they criticize they won’t come to you, but will tell everyone else.
- Guard Your Own Attitude Toward the Critic – Don’t get defensive, but stay objective. Your attitude will go a long way in determining the outcome. If you go in with both guns blazing, attacking the critic, they will fire right back or shut down and then go tell everyone they know how you handled the situation. Every encounter with a critic is an opportunity.
- Don’t See Only the Critic; See the Crowd – Is this an isolated piece of criticism or is it widespread. If a lot of people have the same criticism the approach must be different than if only one person is complaining. This takes work to know your followers and to get the feedback to know if this is a bigger issue. As a leader it is vital that you are in touch with your followers. They need to have clear open ways of communicating with you. You need to be intentional about meeting with people one-on-one in order to hear their heart.
- Make Sure You Are Emotionally Healthy – This is huge for leaders. If you are not healthy emotionally, criticism will eat you up. All the hurts you have inside will leak out in unhealthy ways. Your perspective will be off and your focus will be on yourself, not the bigger picture. Emotional health will determine the level of your leadership.
I lead at a Multi-site church and I must say that criticism has helped me to grow as a leader. I work hard at being open to push back and criticism. I pay attention to comments that come in. It takes courage for someone to make a critical comment and it deserves to be followed up with. I recently had a new person to our church share something that was critical of something we did. I sent her an email explaining our motive behind what we did. I cast vision for who we are trying to reach as a church. It helped her to better understand the why behind what we are doing. I had opportunity later to talk with her and her husband on the phone and even pray with them. I also have around 10 people that I often ask for criticism and feedback on what is not working, what is working, what is missing and what is confused. These conversations help me to get a better understanding of what the perception of the people really is. It also helps me to communicate more clearly and cast vision more effectively.