I receive my share of criticism. Much, even most, of it is constructive. But, there are those times when criticism is given to me that is not intended to be constructive. In those moments, my response dictates what kind of person and leader I am going to be.
This reminds me of a short Seinfeld clip on the airing of grievances. Do you remember this one? Frank Costanza has reinstituted the celebration of Festivus. It begins with the public airing of grievances. Frank says to the family, “I got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it!”
This is NOT how criticism should be given. Yet, there will be times when we feel our critics have taken Frank’s approach.They have a lot of problems with us and they’re going to tell us what they are.
As a pastor, a good portion of my leadership is on public display. The majority of this receives little to no response (Trust me, I ain’t pandering for praise. This is likely the same at your job.). A small portion of this receives an inordinate amount of praise (see: whoosh! and HMTU). And there is another small portion that receives an inordinate amount of critical criticism not intended to be helpful. Like what you may ask?*
- My faith in Jesus has been called into question. This is pretty important given my understanding of the after-life (tongue in cheek).
- My choice of a certain cultural connection was assumed to be idolatry rather than this person following up with me for more information.
- My views on hot-button social issues in and outside the church have been labeled as bigoted, antiquated, 1950’s type thinking or worse.
- My decisions on how I’ve chosen to be a husband and father have been considered weak or unhealthy or fill-in-the-blank-negative-adjective.
Are these critics in the minority? Absolutely. Does it still matter how I respond to them? YES! It matters how I respond to them in the moment. And it matters how I respond later as their criticism could cause self-doubt in my own leadership, paralysis in moving forward, and worse.
Point of note – Don’t get into this business to make people happy! You will not. If you are, it’s possible you have given up your role as leader for that of enabler. Aspiring leaders need to know that criticism comes with being a leader.
QUESTIONS: What is your response to criticism that is not intended to be helpful and constructive? Do you have an exercise you go through or points you like to remember in these types of scenarios?
*These examples are intentionally vague and absent of explicit details. I want people to know that A) they can share tough criticism with me and B) they do not need to fear it will result in some type of public response.