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CRITICISM AND LEADERSHIP
Victor M. Eskew
One of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen was Moses. In Exodus 3, God commissioned him to lead the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. “Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exo. 3:9-10). With some hesitancy, Moses accepted the challenge.
The number of people that Moses led has been estimated in the millions. Among those people there was great diversity. Personalities, aspirations, fears, motivations, young, old, singles, families, and widows are only a few of the differences that existed within the Israelite nation. With such disparity, it is not surprising to find criticism. In fact, besides the Christ, Moses may have been one of the most criticized leaders of the world.
The criticism began before the children of Israel had left the land of Egypt. Pharaoh’s army had trapped Israel at the edge of the Red Sea. Destruction seemed inevitable. Thus, Israel complained against Moses. “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, thou has taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore has thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we might serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exo. 14:11-12).
Moses faced a second criticism after leaving Egypt. This one involved someone very close to him, his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro observed Moses as he judged the children of Israel. “And when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning to evening?” (Exo. 18:14). Note: What Moses was doing was not wrong, but Jethro was wise enough to know that “the thing that thou doest is not good” (Exo. 18:17). Jethro even offered some solid advice to his son-in-law about this matter (Exo. 18:19-23).
There are several things that leaders can learn about criticism from these two incidents: 1) Criticism is inevitable. 2) Criticism comes from both far and near, friend and foe. 3) Criticism can be both negative and positive. 4) Criticism does not necessarily arise from wrong doing. 5) Criticism needs to be heard. 6) Some criticism needs to be accepted. None of these things is easy to learn and accept. One reason for this is because criticism always seems to be a personal attack.
In his book, Leadership Gold, John C. Maxwell has an entire chapter dedicated to criticism. There are several points that he makes that can aid us when we are faced with criticism. First, he notes how to avoid all criticism. The means is by doing nothing. It was Aristotle who said: “Criticism is something you can avoid easily – by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” This is not an option for those who want to be success as leaders. The point is that one must expect criticism as a leader.
Second, we must come to realize that often what we need to hear the most is what we want to hear the least. Criticism often highlights our weaknesses. Criticism focuses upon our shortcomings. Criticism does not flatter. It does not stroke one’s ego. Taken well, however, criticism can be used as a vehicle for growth.
Third, criticism must be received. Mr. Maxwell notes four ways to maintain a proper attitude when faced with criticism: 1) Don’t be defensive; 2) Look for the grain of truth; 3) Make any necessary changes, and 4) Take the high road. He also suggests that one ask a series of three questions to determine whether the criticism is constructive or destructive:
“Who criticized me? Adverse criticism from a wise person is
more to be desired than the enthusiastic approval of a fool. The
source often matters.
How was the criticism given? I try to discern whether the
person was being judgmental or whether he gave me the bene-
fit of the doubt and spoke with kindness.
Why was it given? Was it given out of personal hurt or for my
benefit? Hurting people hurt people; they lash out or criticize to
try to make themselves feel better, not to help the other person” (p. 36).
Leaders will face criticism. They must learn to handle all that comes their way. Attitude and discernment both assist in accomplishing this task.
Criticism hurts. Criticism is sometimes unfair. Some criticism is designed to wound. Criticism can cause feelings of anger, depression, and despair. Quitting, however, will not bring success. Rejecting criticism will not allow growth. Criticism must be properly monitored and responded to. Remember, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Too, others often have ideas that are better than mine. They key is to try to always be all that we can be. Sometimes criticism will move us in that direction.