How you respond to criticism will dictate what kind of leader you are

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.

Preparing yourself to return to work tomorrow morning

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.

Posted on by Cor in LEADERSHIP

9 Responses to How you respond to criticism will dictate what kind of leader you are

  1. Steve Douglas

    “You just got called a butthead, how do you respond?” “Help me to understand.” ;) While I mean that as a funny play on one of your choice phrases, it actually is a very helpful way to steer dialogue to something constructive. Why do you think I am a butthead, what are you really upset about, what would it take to change your mind, am I willing to concede that? “A gentle answer…” (Prov 15:1-2)

    • Cor

      haha. That’s good, Steven. And I do like that Proverb!

  2. zack blaisdell

    Hi Cor. i just subscribed to your blog a few days ago. Love the blog buddy :)
    i remember Paul’s words to Timothy in his second letter. Paul tells Timothy (and all who follow Him) “endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (among other things). In other words, i believe he’s saying not everyone is going to like you, you can’t please everyone. Don’t get caught up in what people say about you. Keep doing what your doing.
    God bless you Cor. Thank you for the conversation. Grace and Peace.

    • Cor

      Hey Zack, how’d you happen upon if you don’t’ mind me asking?

      I appreciate those words. For me I think there is a tension and balance that needs to be achieved between enduring/working/fulfilling in the midst of critical comments and listening/receiving/processing those same comments. How do you process critical comments in order to learn while still not getting too caught up in them?

  3. zack blaisdell

    Oh ok. i see. We should take all things with a grain of salt, so to speak. Look at yourself and decide if what is said has merit and if we need to change or not.
    i came upon your blog via your blog post on your brother’s blog a few days ago.
    Again, thanks for the conversation. God bless. Grace and Peace.

    • Cor

      I’ve heard it shared that every criticism usually has a kernel of truth. Find that. Learn from it. And don’t get bent out of shape by the rest of it.

      • zack blaisdell

        Thank you Cor :) God bless you, your family, and the work y’all are doing in the Twin Cities and beyond.

  4. Marilyn

    I wonder if words (positive and negative) can have more impact to some than others making criticism affect people differently. (Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is not the view of everyone.) I have had a couple of co-workers this year that have been harsh and cutting. It has been remarkable to me that I have felt God instructing me to “bless and not curse” them. As I have asked Him to bless them each morning, I have been given great joy and freedom over the power of their untruthful words. I have listened and tried to adjust my ways (trying to love and honor them) by keeping my eyes on Him instead. So, I guess if you want me to pray for you to be blessed, be critical of what I’ve written here.

    • Cor

      Any way for me to get you to pray for my blessing other than being critical toward you!?

      Praise God for his instruction to bless and not curse.