In any field of leadership, people will second-guess and criticize you. Criticism is just part of leadership and according to Aristotle, the only way to avoid criticism is “say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
So, while you cannot avoid criticism, you can minimize it by leading thoughtfully and even use it to your own benefit.
Here are four concrete steps in dealing with criticism:
- Build a positive culture.
Starting with yourself, build a culture among your staff and volunteers that is positive. Make sure you yourself lead from a posture of positivity, encourage speaking well of others, discourage gossip, avoid looking good at another’s expense. Dispense with any hint of a “me against the world” attitude. Always look to understand the motives of others and try to see the best in the people criticizing you. Many times, criticism isn’t even about you. The people that are the most angry are often those who are hurting the most. And hurt people tend to hurt people.
- Create an avenue for helpful feedback.
Create a culture that invites helpful feedback, but discourages unhelpful, idle, or destructive criticism. Empower the people around you to provide helpful feedback. I have an open door policy with my staff and they know that they can always talk to me. I also have a group of people outside of staff that I trust and seek feedback from because I know that they share my vision.
- Lead with the “why.”
Leaders are change agents, but uninformed people usually resist change. We tend to think that people do not like change in general, but it is more about disliking change they do not understand. The why needs to come before the what. If you paint a clear and compelling vision of why things need to change, you can disarm your critics, educate the bystanders, and equip and empower the advocates. A compelling why will persuade critics that “this actually makes sense,” the bystanders will understand why they should be part of this, and the advocates get tools to promote the cause.
- Be wise in how you live.
As a leader, you are always held to higher standards than anybody else. You have to be hyper sensitive to what you say when, how, and to who. And never ask your congregation to do things you do not do yourself.
Look at criticism as an opportunity to get better and keep in mind that chances are you are not as good as your fans think you are, but you’re probably not as bad as your critics think you are either. As my friend Pastor Craig Groeschel likes to say “Don’t let compliments get into your head, and don’t let criticism get into your heart.”
For another take on this check out Craig Groeschel’s leadership podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QphJPTu7VLs):