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Growing Through Criticism

None of us enjoy getting criticized. It's human nature to enjoy being right and feel a sense of hurt when we're wrong. The thing is, however, we all need criticism. Those who disagree with us truly help us grow. The ones who call us out, point out our weaknesses and flaws, and challenge us make us better.There are times when you shouldn't listen to criticism--for example, when it's based on falsehood or given in a way that's meant to destroy your sense of self-worth.But that's not usually the case. When we're on the receiving end of criticism, our goal should be to learn from the feedback, and not let emotion close our minds.Emotionally intelligent people make growing from criticism a goal, and work hard to avoud certain behaviors when criticized.They don't minimize the problem. When receiving criticism, your first instinct might be to think: Is it really that big of a deal?For the person who brought it to your attention, it was. And you can be sure it will be for others, too. If you want to be great, the small stuff matters.They don't rationalize or make excuses, or justify themselves. It never helps. If someone has the courage to tell you your presentation stunk, don't waste time explaining; just ask why it stunk. Then listen carefully. Obviously, you shouldn't automatically take the fall for something you didn't do, and there are a few circumstances when you'll need to defend yourself. But in general, keeping a learning mindset will benefit most. When you see yourself as right all of the time, you're missing something.They don't sidestep the issue. Refusing to tackle issues head-on is not only bad style and self-defeating.They don't shift the blame. If you always make it someone else’s fault, you’ll end up very lonely. We can't control others, but we can work on ourselves. When we accept criticism, apply it, and move forward, not only do we benefit--but others benefit from our example.Don’t fear criticism. Criticism is a natural part of leadership. If no one is criticizing your leadership – you are not leading correctly. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Leadership is about always doing what is in the best interest of the organization you are serving. Leaders get paid to make the difficult decision.Many leaders don’t really know how to lead; they waste time trying to satisfy the agendas of others and make everyone happy., rather than focusing on the goals and objectives of the organization and people they serve. Leadership requires mental toughness..You need to be strong and objective to whatever people throw your way. Effective leaders stay focused on confronting conflict head on – and move on to the next opportunity. When you get too personally caught up, it becomes difficult to handle criticism and you lose momentum as you begin to make poor decisions trying to reestablish and validate your leadership to yourself and others.As you find success in your leadership journey, some people will try to take you down. This is actually a sign that you are on the right path. Being a 21st century leader requires you to be a change agent and people don’t like to change. As you lean-into the challenges and new opportunities that come with them, remember that criticism is a natural process of the leadership journey. Criticism is an almost daily staple for most leaders. You get everything from side comments, to direct challenges, to people who walk out the door, to anonymous notes sent to you by people with no courage.Even in a healthy environment, criticism is inevitable. The best way to avoid critics is to do nothing significant. And that talks you out of the leadership arena.Here are some guidelines culled from a variety of great leaders on how to live and learn through criticism, and thrive.Don’t Play The Victim People find it difficult to respect a leader who becomes the victim. The victimization mentality is not a leadership trait. It exposes their lack of maturity and doubt rapidly begins to enter the minds of those they lead about their ability to endure the pressure, intensity and uncertainty. Own the criticism and turn the negativity into a platform to enable growth, innovation and possibilities.Don’t React Impulsively When faced with criticism, step back and assess the situation. Be patient, don’t react impulsively. Too many leaders get defensive, focus more on their reputation and overreact, rather than evaluate the situation at hand. Adversity primarily reveals you. Leaders must practice patience when faced with criticism and show a high level of composure and executive presence. Criticism comes and goes. How well you lead through it is what earns you respect from your peers. Carey Nieuwhof suggests some of the best directives I know:Don’t Respond For 24 Hours. Ever. Every time you get a critical email, a critical comment, a critical text or phone call, something happens inside you, doesn’t it? Your emotions will derail your brain. After 24 hours elapses, something amazing usually happens. You get your brain back.A day later, you can respond reasonably and rationally to something that you once could only respond to emotionally. You’ve slept on it. Hopefully you’ve prayed about it. And maybe you’ve even talked to a few wise friends about how to respond with grace and integrity. You’ve lost nothing. So wait. Just wait. Nothing good happens when you’re upset as a leader.Honestly consider what truth might be in the criticism. Sometimes there’s nothing. But often there is. If you’re not sure, ask a friend or co-worker. They may see what your critic sees. Even if there’s just a little truth, that truth can help you grow into a better person and better leader. Even if there’s zero truth in what the critic is saying, at least you searched and you lost nothing.Own What You Can. Great leaders assume responsibility. Weak leaders blame.Reply Relationally. Andy Stanley says, Take your response to criticism up one level from how they corresponded with you. Reply in a way that’s more relationally connected than how they initiated things with you.”For example: if they emailed you, call them. You’ll not only shock them, but you’ll quickly diffuse the situation. People are bolder on email than they ever are in a conversation. Nothing good regarding conflict ever happens on email. If they stopped you in the hall and blasted you, take them out for coffee. Call them and tell them you would like to learn from them and address the issue in person.9 times out of 10, you will take the air out of the conflict balloon. And if they’re healthy, and you own whatever you can, you’ll be surprised at how it resolves the situation.Discard The Crud Even if you find some truth in what they said, own what you can and reply graciously and relationally, sometimes there’s still crud in the mix. Discard it. Here’s a thought from Carey that is spot on: Sometimes I think 95% of the conflict in the church has nothing to do with the church.Your critic might have just had a huge fight with his daughter before he sat down at the keyboard to blast you. Your critic might simply be an angry person who has issues stapled to her issues. And you got an unfair shot. Or he may be someone who’s simply angry at the world. 95% of the conflict in the church has nothing to do with the church.”We can’t make the assumption that all our critics are crazy, frustrated or need counseling. But sometimes good people say and do bad things with zero basis in reality.When that happens, you need to let the crud go. You’ve owned as much as you can of it, so let the rest fall away. Pray about it. Talk to friends about it. Grieve the hurt (seriously…do this) and then let it go.Don’t Let the Critics Win Criticism not only kills a lot of leaders, it kills a lot of church growth. Learn, grow, move on.Turn Criticism Into Opportunity Criticism is another way of saying “learning moments.” Though you can never be perfect when leading, you must be open-minded enough to course correct along the way. Leadership requires you to renew and reinvent yourself. No matter how much past success you have experienced, , leadership requires you to invest in yourself so that you can become a better, faster change agent.Great leaders and their organizations are often criticized. As the saying goes, “It's difficult to get to the top, but even harder to stay there." Why? Because it’s easy to grow complacent – and it’s difficult to endure the critics that don’t believe you’ve earned the right to be there in the first place. Staying focused is critical when you are a leader. You can shut down the noise aby staying focused and diffusing the noise by staying focused on what is next, and in the process, you will even silence some of your critics.

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