Posted in Leadership

5 Responses to Critiques

I like to read leadership books. What I don’t like is reading about myself in a book and it not being a compliment.

I guess I had delusions of grandeur that if I were to be mentioned in a top shelf leadership book, it would be for some sort of example where I’d been part of something good. But that’s not how it unfolded.

While reading the latest book of an author whose ideas and teachings I respect, I came across an anecdote about a meeting the author had with an executive pastor. As I read further, it became clear to me that he was sharing about an actual exchange he and I had on a previous occasion. The details he recalled (which were a pretty close rendering of the actual conversation) didn’t show me or my leadership in the best light.

What do you do when you read or hear feedback about yourself that’s negative?

If you’re like me, you react. On your best day, you hear it, evaluate its truth, and act accordingly. On your worst day, no matter if its truth, it elicits an emotion that’s likely tied to sin.

Can you think of the last time you heard someone say a critical comment toward you? How’d you feel? And more importantly, what did you do with the critique?

The answer to that last question is what separates average leaders from great leaders.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but negative feedback about my work and decisions comes fairly often. I work with and for quite a few people, and they all have opinions.

Sometimes those critical opinions of my work and leadership are expressed well. The “critic” isn’t disparaging me as a person, but is simply giving their opinion on how I did something wrong or made a poor decision. The author I mentioned earlier didn’t go after me as a person, but he captured a trait of mine that admittedly leaves me with a leadership deficit.

I could spend time writing about how I reacted in that situation, but I’ve spent enough time being a book-example-martyr, so let’s talk about how you and I as leaders can respond well to the critical comments that come our way

Respond to critiques by…

Separating from it

Some people need seconds of separation. Some people need days. I don’t know how you’re wired, but you need to know what your separation time needs to be, and then commit to not respond to the critique sooner than you should.

Setting aside the person

I think a lot of critical feedback gets missed because we only look at the person delivering it, and not the content. Some people are jerks. Some people have no concept of what you do. Some people are negative about all things. But that doesn’t mean their critique can’t be valuable in improving how you lead. In your mind, pretend the same critique instead came from someone you trust and who understands what you do. It’s mental gymnastics, but it can be helpful. And when you can play this game in your head, it’ll be easier to see content that’s valuable.

Seeking truth

What if you started with the presupposition that all critique has some level of truth? If you need biblical help to get you there, think, “I’m depraved. Therefore, my leadership is depraved.” What 2, 5, or 50 percent of the critique is true? Pray — seek what the Spirit affirms.

Many times critiques are uninformed or out of context. But even then, there’s almost always some truth in it. Don’t dismiss the little bit of truth just because the critic doesn’t have all the facts.


If you can’t determine if the critique is accurate, take it to someone you respect, and ask a question like, “Someone mentioned to me the other day that in meetings I come across as ‘My way or the highway.’… Have you seen that in me at times?”

If your substantiation process clears you, get the critical comment out of your head and move on. However, if it’s substantiated, move to the next step.

Setting a corrective course

(S)engage it (That’s a silent ‘S’ so I could keep up my alliteration)

First, re-engage the person you “set aside”. Depending on your relationship with them and what you think they can offer, say to them something like: “Your feedback caused me to think, and I’ll keep considering what I need to learn from it.” or something like, “Your feedback was hard for me to hear, but I think you’ve identified something in me that needs to get better. Do you have any thoughts?”

Second, engage the portion of the critique you can control and identify the ways you can make changes. It may be a helpful self-development exercise for you.

If you lead, critique will happen. Some of it will be more justified than others. But the discipline of responding well to critique and engaging with it in a healthy way separates average leaders from great leaders. Average was okay with me in school, but you and I know there’s too much at stake in our churches and in leading others to be average as a leader.

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Why Lateral Leadership Gets More Done

Privileged to have Kevin Spratt guest post (more about Kevin below post)

Many people limit leadership ability to positional authority. What do I mean about positional authority? Someone who has the ability to issue directives and enforce consequences if those directives aren’t followed is someone with positional authority. Typically, we think of our bosses as positional leaders but it can extend to someone like a parent, mentor or someone designated to give direction like a student ministry volunteer.

In both my personal and professional career I have been fascinated with the concept of leadership and discipleship. Wherever I have been I have had a desire to provide vision and guidance. I hunger to serve and to be placed in positions of responsibility. I have been graced to serve in all types of roles as a director/leader, but also as a servant/volunteer/detail person. I have served in organizations of 50 and 5,000. What I have observed over the years is that the majority of leadership doesn’t happen via directives from bosses but laterally when co-workers or volunteers come together for a common purpose. More work is done laterally in any given organization than is done directionally.

The most successful contributors in an organization will understand how to lead laterally because they understand the value of working together and that more can be accomplished faster when everyone works together. This is a lesson not just for the worker/volunteer but also for the leader because everyone has to lead laterally. In every organization there is someone you report to and someone you work with. Even as a manager or ministry director there are peers you have to work with to accomplish common goals.

I have observed 4 common traits of effective lateral leaders:

1 – Relationship Driven – Lateral Leaders understand the value of relationships. That because they need others to get work done they must maintain great working relationships with the people they regularly encounter in their work. There is a certain economy to these relationships. I wrote about this economy over at LifeWay Leadership.

2 – Humble – Lateral Leaders understand that their gifts are no more significant than the gifts of those they serve with. They understand that each person they serve with plays an equal role in completing the task.

3 – Servant – They see the needs of others before their own needs. Lateral Leaders understand that in order for them to be most effective they must also consider the needs of others first. If everything has to work together their needs must no supersede the needs of others.

4 – Reliable – A lateral leader is the most prepared person on the team. They have answers to questions before they are asked, they are always on time, and are completely trustworthy.

A lateral leader understands that they are most effective when they are able to work with others. The key to lateral leadership is serving those around you.

Many thanks for guest blogger Kevin Spratt. Kevin serves on the Lifeway Leadership team where he influences thousands of church and lay leaders around the world with quality leadership content. You can follow Kevin on Twitter and learn more about Kevin here.

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Good and Bad Reasons Not to Tackle Problems

If you’re a leader, you see problems. Many times you’ll see them before others do. But what if as you see these problems, and you choose not to engage them?

When a leader chooses not to engage a problem in their area of influence, I can think of at least two reasons for making that decision – one is good, healthy, and exemplifies excellent leadership – the other is bad, unhealthy, and indicates you may be done with leadership.

The healthy reason:

Solving the problem in question won’t help your church or organization get further down the road. It’s a problem, but it’s not the problem. You know that with or without your input, the problem won’t last or be prohibitive to fulfilling your mission.

You’re conserving energy, by choosing the important over the urgent

You’re staying in the lane only you can run in. You know there are better-equipped people to solve that particular problem.

When you’re evaluating problems this way, you’re exemplifying excellent leadership.

When I’m tempted to engage problems that aren’t mission-critical, it’s usually for a couple reasons:

I want a win. When I can successfully solve small problems, it feels like “winning.” It makes me feel better, and in control. It also makes me feel useful to others, and my worth is validated. Yet, we know this isn’t good leadership.

I don’t bill my hours like an attorney – nor do I deserve that kind of money. But one thing I’ve done, is I’ve figured out my hourly rate. Now that I know it, I use it this way—

When there’s a problem to be solved or a question to be researched and answered, I run it through this filter: Is this the kind of issue the church had in mind for me solving when it selected my hourly wage?

After I’ve done this, out of pure stewardship of the church’s money, I back away and disengage from many problem-solving activities. For example, last week, I was asked to approve a paint color variance in our office color scheme. It won’t impact my personal office space, and I’m not an interior designer. I began to consider the question and was tempted to ask a lot of questions and give my decision. But when I placed that filter on the decision, I realized it wasn’t my problem to solve and it wasn’t good stewardship of the church’s money for me to pursue it further. Instead, I said, “Whatever you all decide is fine.”

I think disengaging from these kinds of problems is healthy. But there’s also an unhealthy reason for disengaging from problems.

The unhealthy reason:

You see a problem, but have no desire or energy to engage it.

When you see problems hurting your mission yet can’t muster up the energy to begin solving it, it could be a sign of something unhealthy, and needs to be addressed – not only for your sake, but also for the sake of those you serve and lead. A filter for discerning the ambivalence factor: If one 1, 3, or 5 years ago you saw the same problem, would you’ve jumped in without hesitation?

If so, your lack of energy and willingness to engage could be a sign of unhealthiness (but not always). In April’s monthly podcast with Andy Stanley, this idea was unpacked and attributed to the former Home Depot CEO, Frank Blake. In Blake’s case, he was seeing things that needed his attention at Home Depot, and yet, he didn’t want to wade into them. He found himself not engaging things needing his attention, and that reluctance caused him to ask questions about whether he needed to remain in his CEO position (he later chose to transition out of that role).

The people around you will catch on that you’re problem-avoiding. It’ll be like Maverick in the movie Top Gun when he wouldn’t re-engage in the dog fight (I always look for opportunities to point people to Top Gun) and people around him are screaming, “Engage, Maverick!” But even before others notice, it should begin with you noticing it with self-awareness and then self-governance. As a leader, you need to be aware if you’re mentally backing away from the work you’re supposed to be doing. If you’ve become ambivalent and lack energy for the work and the vision, you’re not necessarily wrong for feeling that way, but you’ll be wrong to not make changes.

Maybe a shift in the responsibilities will be enough, or you just need a two week vacation. Possibly, it could indicate the need for a more permanent change. What problems are you currently avoiding? What’s left unchecked on your task list or unread in your email? Is your avoidance intentional because those particular problems are a distraction from your most important work (healthy leadership)?

Or is it because you no longer have the moxie to wade into the hard issues and lead out of them?

If you’re avoiding problems, use these filters, and then make the courageous leadership decision.

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