Seven Leadership Lessons Learned from Critics

I really don’t like to be criticized. A criticism can make my entire day gloomy. I have to wonder how someone so thin-skinned ended up in the position where I am today. Still, when it’s all said and done, I have to say that I have benefited in many ways from criticisms. Indeed, part of my training to be a better leader comes from dealing with critics. Let me share with you seven lessons I have learned from them.

  1. Not all personal criticisms are personal. I know. My statement sounds contradictory. But many personal attacks take place because the critic is having his or her own problems. I once spoke with a vociferous critic on the phone who said some pretty terrible things to me and about me. Though I was restrained, I hung up the phone pretty mad. For some reason, I called him back just a few minutes later. I told him that I should have prayed for him, and that I wanted to apologize for being insensitive. He began to weep, telling me that his adult daughter was killed in an auto accident just two weeks earlier. Everyone has needs and problems, even our critics. Maybe sometimes we really need to listen to them.
  2. A quick, emotional response usually backfires. I do better to say less than more. When I speak quickly to the critic, it usually is an emotional response that I regret later. I’m learning to keep quiet. It’s tough.
  3. Criticism helps me to become a better person and a better leader. Sometimes the remarks make me look in the mirror, and I don’t always like what I see. I have also learned that I’m not helped at all if everyone agrees with me on all that I say and do. Critics help refine me as a leader. They help me to be a better person, though the process is always painful.
  4. Criticism helps me to think twice before I criticize others. I know the pain of criticism. I know the hurt that comes when a critic comes after me with an unfounded accusation. If I don’t like that pain, why should I inflict it on others? I recently spoke with a pastor who was lamenting the level of criticism he receives. But this pastor has a blog that is inevitably critical of someone almost every time he writes. He does not see the inconsistency in his behavior and the way he would like to be treated.
  5. “Consider the source” is a good guideline. I have learned that some people are just negative. They seem stuck in that one disposition. They skip the reading of Philippians 4 because the text mandates we “rejoice in the Lord.” Some critics should be heard. Many should not.
  6. Criticism can lead us to greater depths of prayer. I wish I were the man of prayer that I should be. But I fall short, very short of where I need to be. Criticism hurts me. Sometimes the pain is more than I can handle, so I turn it over to my Lord to handle it for me. I wish I did that all the time. Sometimes the criticism is extremely painful and just what I needed. It drives me to pray even more fervently.
  7. Sometimes the critic is right. Yes, it’s painful to be criticized. But on more occasions than I’m comfortable admitting, I’ve had the additional pain of learning that I indeed needed correction. The Bible can be pretty straightforward about it: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1, HCSB). Call me stupid. Criticism hurts. But it can be for our benefit. The critic can be right. God, give me the discernment to know when to listen to my critic so that I might truly learn and change. I have a long way to go.


  1. says

    Brother, your article came at a very opportune time. I too am struggling with my “thin skin” and have taken way to many hits personally that I should have looked at through a different lens. Thanks for your insight and encouragement.

  2. says

    You have no idea how timely! Number One is the part I have the hardest time with as a pastor.
    No one but our families know the hours invested, love given, and the unrealistic expectations from some of those we serve.
    As you point out, however, the pain of criticism can be a wonderful catalyst of personal growth when we draw near to God and accept that we will never be all things to all people.

  3. says

    I like that this blog post has been percolating in me since reading it almost two weeks ago. I’d add one more point from personal experience:
    *Don’t create criticism where it’s not.*
    It’s easy to misinterpret people. We need to communicate as much information as possible but we don’t need to mistake questions for criticism or invent criticism where it’s not … and I’m guilty of the latter. It’s an awful way to live.

  4. Reiner Kirsten says

    Thank you Greg, the subject is a welcome view on the issue
    maybe as Pastors we are to discuss this issue publicly with some general ideas
    = Christians should expect and welcome criticism from other Christian
    = a Christian will reach out to a brother to highlight an issue, personal behavior or mishap
    = as a Christian I accept criticism of a brother knowing that a real brother does this to help another Christian in a demonstration of (agape) love
    = a recipient of criticism I do look for the hidden message God may want to give me

  5. Don Matthews says

    Criticism can be categorized in three different ways. Each has to be handled in different ways. PERSONAL, POLICY, PROCEDURAL. Policy or procedural matters can be handled easier than personal. You can review the policy or procedure to see who it effects and analyze it to see if something is being missed. It can be constructive and can be handled publicly. Personal criticism has to be handled privately unless it becomes a public issue . Most of the time a policy to procedural criticism is founded in personal issues. A wise leader can decree the difference and proceed accordingly.

  6. Steve Lindsey says

    Thank you sir for this great article. Many years ago the church plant I was pastoring was going through a split and there were many personal criticisms aimed at me. I was taking it really hard (An understatement) and pouring my heart out at a pastor’s conference. A seasoned pastor gave me the best advice I’ve ever received as a pastor. He said to me, “Son, suck it up, it’s part of the call!” I have since looked at criticism differently. God can use it to shape us and no matter how spiritual we think we are we’ll never be perfect as our Lord was and they sure criticized Him! And I need it many times over to help me look with in! Great article and it causes me to look inside myself, again!

  7. Morris Johnson says

    After 40+ years in the ministry, you’d think I would have learned to handle criticism better. It’s always popping up at the most “inopportune” times! I know that there is no such thing as coincidence, so even the criticism (justified or not) comes my way to help me be a better pastor and better person. Thanks for reminding me of this crucial truth.

  8. Donny Cannoy says

    Over and over again I have been blessed by the wisdom shared in your books. While I don’t normally consider myself to be thin-skinned, planting and pastoring a church has definitely worn down the outer layers.

    Though this post is over two years old, it is timely, not just for me, but for many. Thanks for sharing.

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