Criticism accompanies leadership. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. If a pastor is taking a church somewhere—and really even if he or she isn’t—someone will criticize his or her efforts. The way a leader responds to criticism says much about the maturity of the leader and the quality of his or her leadership.
Here are five wrong ways to respond to criticism:
1. Finding fault with the critic
Instead of admitting there might be validity to the criticism, many leaders immediately attempt to discredit the person offering it.
2. Blaming others
Many leaders realize the criticism may be valid, but they aren’t willing to accept personal responsibility, so they pass it along to others.
3. Throwing back criticism
Often a leader will receive criticism, and instead of analyzing whether there is validity or not, the leader begins to criticize other organizations or leaders.
4. Ignoring an opportunity to learn
This is a big one, because criticism can be a great teaching tool. It needs a filter, and the person and circumstances need to be taken into consideration, but with every criticism rests an opportunity to learn something positive for the organization or about the leader.
Many leaders are so fearful of conflict that they attempt to satisfy all critics, even if they never intend to follow through or make changes because of the criticism. If there is no merit to criticism, then don’t act like there is merit.
What else would you add as a wrong way to respond to criticism?
I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Awareness is half the battle. Identifying the wrong ways to respond to criticism and working to correct this in your leadership is part of growing as a leader.
Let’s be honest! Criticism can hurt. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something they do isn’t perceived as wonderful by others as they hoped it would be. Criticism, however, is a part of leadership and, if handled correctly, doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership. There is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.
Here are five right ways to respond to criticism:
1. Consider the source
In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Our church meets in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools has criticism for me, I will invest more time responding than if it’s a random person who never intends to attend our church.
2. Listen to everyone
You may not respond to everyone in the same way, but everyone deserves a voice, and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve learned from that, too, and always wonder if my leadership prompted an anonymous response, but I don’t “criticize” leaders who don’t. I don’t, however, weight it as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.)
3. Analyze for validity
Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with at the time. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.
4. Look for common themes
If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.
5. Give an answer
I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer, even if the answer is that you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, I save answers to common criticism received, because I know I’ll be answering that same criticism again.
One of my favorite is movies is It’s a Wonderful Life. In one scene, George Bailey responds to criticism that the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism seriously, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocuses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress! Obviously this is an extreme example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. Many times, people simply don’t understand, so they complain…they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.
What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!
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