Leaders and criticism: a few thoughts

I’m currently working on a chapter on criticism and conflict for a forthcoming book on leadership. Here are a few thoughts that I hope to develop in the chapter.

  • Criticism and conflict are inevitable in leadership (if leadership is actually going to achieve anything). Reggie McNeal says that ‘the decision to serve as a spiritual leader signs one up for conflict’.
  • However not all conflict and criticism are the same: some of it is destructive and says more about the critic than the leader. Leaders need to distinguish between the various types.
  • Someone has said that we should weigh criticism rather than count our critics. Not everyone’s voice carries (or should carry) the same weight.
  • Learn to look at yourself in the mirror before attempting to deal with your critics.
  • Identify and deal with your own defensiveness and insecurity. If you don’t, you will not deal well with your critics.
  • Look for the grain of truth, no matter what is happening. What do you need to take on board?
  • In the event that the criticism is more about the critic than about the leader, what might the leader need to learn about what’s going on in the critic?
  • Have the humility to allow critics to become coaches.
  • Learn to see criticism as a path to growth rather than a fight to be won.
  • Remember (especially if you are a pastor) that the tenderness that allows you to be sensitive to others probably makes you more vulnerable to the wounds of a critic.

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