5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

Let’s be honest! Criticism can hurt. No one enjoys hearing something negative about themselves or finding out that something you do isn’t perceived as wonderful by others as you hoped it would be. Criticism, however, is a part of leadership and, if handled correctly, doesn’t have to be a bad part of leadership. There is usually something to be learned from all criticism. Allowing criticism to work for you rather than against you is a key to maturing as a leader.

Recently I posted 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism. A companion post is in order.

Here are 5 right ways to respond to criticism:

Consider the source – In a stakeholder sense, how much influence and investment does this person have in the organization? This might not change your answer but may change the amount of energy you invest in your answer. Our church meets in two schools, for example, so if the Director of Schools has criticism for me I will invest more time responding than if it’s a random person who never intends to attend our church.

Listen to everyone – You may not respond to everyone the same way, but everyone deserves a voice and everyone should be treated with respect. This doesn’t necessarily include anonymous criticism. I listen to some if it, especially if it appears valid, because I’ve learned from that too and always wonder if my leadership prompted an anonymous response, but I don’t “criticize” leaders who don’t. I don’t, however, weight it as heavily as I would criticism assigned to a person. (Feel free to leave a comment about anonymous criticism and how you respond.)

Analyze for validity – Is the criticism true? This is where maturity as a leader becomes more important, because there is often an element of truth even to criticism you don’t agree with at the time. Don’t dismiss the criticism until you’ve considered what’s true and what isn’t true. Mature leaders are willing to admit fault and recognize areas of needed improvement.

Look for common themes – If you keep receiving the same criticism, perhaps there is a problem even if you still think there isn’t. It may not be a vision problem or a problem with your strategy or programming, but it may be a communication problem. You can usually learn something from criticism if you are willing to look for the trends.

Give an answer - I believe criticism is like asking a question. It deserves an answer even if the answer is that you don’t have an answer. You may even have to agree to disagree with the person offering criticism. By the way, I save answers to common criticism received because I know I’ll be answering that same criticism again.

The picture with this post is from one of my favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In this scene, George Bailey responds to criticism that the Bailey Building and Loan is going to collapse. I love how he takes the criticism serious, considers the importance of the critics, responds as necessary, attempts to calm their fears, and refocusses on the vision. What a great leadership example during times of stress! Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it points to a reality that happens everyday in an organization. Many times people simply don’t understand so they complain…they criticize. The way a leader responds is critical in that moment.

What would you add to my list? Where do you disagree with me here? I’ll try to take the criticism the “right” way!

5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism

Criticism accompanies leadership. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. If a leader is taking an organization somewhere, and really even if he or she isn’t, someone will criticize his or her efforts. The way a leader responds to criticism says much about the maturity of the leader and the quality of his or her leadership.

Here are 5 wrong ways to respond to criticism:

Finding fault with the critic – Instead of admitting there might be validity to the criticism, many leaders immediately attempt to discredit the person offering it.

Blaming others – Many leaders realize the criticism may be valid, but they aren’t willing to accept personal responsibility, so they pass it along to others.

Throwing back criticism – Often a leader will receive criticism and instead of analyzing whether there is validity or not, the leader begins to criticize other organizations or leaders.

Ignoring an opportunity to learn – This is a big one, because criticism can be a great teaching tool. It needs a filter and the person, circumstances and … need to be taken into consideration, but with every criticism rests an opportunity to learn something positive for the organization or about the leader.

Appeasing – Many leaders are so fearful of conflict that they attempt to satisfy all critics, even if they never intend to follow through or make changes because of the criticism. If there is no merit to criticism then don’t act like there is merit.

What else would you add as a wrong way to respond to criticism?

I’ve been guilty of all of these at one time or another. Awareness is half the battle. Identifying the wrong ways to respond to criticism and working to correct this in your leadership is part of growing as a leader.

I’ve written about criticism previously in these posts:

5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism

Accommodating Versus Ignoring Criticism

Ignoring Advice Can Be Costly

Three Reasons to Never Respond to Criticism in Anger

12 Top Posts About Team Development

I frequently get asked questions about team development that I’ve addressed before. Here’s a recap of the top 10 posts, according to Google Analytics, that I’ve written about teams. The titles speak for themselves.

10 Characteristics of a Healthy Team or Organization

5 Characteristics of an Excellent Team Member

7 Aspects of Healthy Team Member Correction

What Causes Team Idleness?

The Life of an Idea on a Healthy Team

Signs of an Emotionally Healthy Team

7 Things Healthy Churches Check at the Door

5 Characteristics of Healthy Teams

Elements of a Healthy Team

Elements to Help Build a Healthy Team Spirit

Building a Health Team around the Strengths of the Team Members

7 Traits of a Great Team Member

Do you serve on a healthy team? What do you think makes it that way or keeps it from being so?

One Thing I’ve Learned About Conflict

Many leaders avoid conflict at any cost…

It seems this is true especially of pastors…

Yet conflict is often necessary for healthy relationships…

When needed conflict is avoided, people grow bitter, relationship development stalls, and teams suffer…

Here’s one thing I’ve learned about conflict…

Perhaps this well motivate you to confront what you need to confront…

Conflict, when handle correctly, often turns out better than expected…

It does…

Many times your worst fear doesn’t come true…

It doesn’t turn out to be a fight…

The conflict produces positive results…

People and teams get better…

You become a better leader…

Don’t be afraid to try a little…

A little healthy conflict may be just what you need to protect you, others, and the team…

Be honest: Do you typically run from conflict, or do you embrace conflict if needed?

Is there some conflict you’ve been avoiding that you know is needed for the health of your team?

You may want to read:

10 Tips for Handling Conflict

How Is Your Organization Handling Conflict?

Leading with Control Versus Leading with Influence

Let me be honest. I am a controlling person. It’s part of my character. I know that. I test that way with StrengthsFinders. I think my team, however, would tell you that I don’t perform as a controlling leader. It’s been a long process to discipline myself not to respond how I am wired. Successful leaders understand the difference in leading with influence versus leading with control.

Leaders, if you want to to have a healthy team environment, you must learn to control less and influence more. The differences are measured in the results of creating a healthy team.

Here’s what I mean by the results:

In an organization where control is dominant…

  • The leader’s ideas win over the team’s ideas…every time…
  • The team follows…but not willingly…
  • Demands change through fear, not motivation…
  • People are managed but not led…
  • Team members feel unappreciated and under-utilized…
  • The organization is limited to the skills and ability of the controlling leader…
  • Burnout is common…


In an organization where influence is dominant…

  • The ultimate goal is what’s best for the organization…
  • The team develops as relationships and trust grows…
  • Willing followers are attracted…
  • New leaders are recruited and built…
  • Change is promoted through desire, not obligation…
  • The organization has the expanded resources of a team…
  • People feel empowered and appreciated…

When it comes to organizational health…influence will always trump control.

Take your pick.

Have you ever been or worked for a controlling leader?

Have you been in an environment where influence is dominant?

What would you add to my lists?

Learning the True Health of a Team: Niche Consulting Offer

I want to offer a special niche consulting opportunity

Before I share it, please consider these questions:

  • Do you realize the influence you have as a leader and what effect it has on your team or organization?
  • How much would it be worth to know the real health of your organizational culture?
  • Would knowing ways to improve in your leadership be helpful to you?
  • Are you as a leader willing to be vulnerable to find the holes in your leadership?

Let’s face it. Leaders are often the last to hear of a problem on a team. Even the best leaders have blind spots they can’t see, but others see clearly. Wise leaders are open to the input of others, in an attempt to improve personally and assist the team or organization they lead.

One thing that has helped me improve in this area has been annually allowing my team to anonymously evaluate my leadership. You can read about my process HERE.

I learned from my team that my understanding of where we were and they way I was perceived, as a leader, was not always reality. My staff said some hard things to hear, but they were dead-on accurate and by adjusting my leadership to the needs of my team, I’ve become a better leader and my team has become a better team.

I want to help your team do the same.

Here is the deal:

I’m offering a special consulting opportunity for your team and leadership. I will come to your location, conduct an anonymous survey of your people’s perception of your leadership, share the results with you personally, discuss ways for improvement, and then bring the team together to discuss our findings. What I’ve discovered is that many times there are very simple adjustments to be made, better ways to communicate, or things I should be doing differently that I never knew were a problem.

This is not for the weak leader, but if you are confident you want to be a better leader, I believe I can help.

Here’s what I can promise:

  • My goal will be to protect the leader and make you better. I am pro-leader. This will be done in a way that honors your leadership.
  • You will gain insights into how you lead and learn ways you can improve.
  • This will not be as painful as it seems, but the rewards will be noticeable.
  • Your people will feel valued and appreciated for you allowing them to speak into your life.
  • You will be a better leader if you adjust your leadership according to our findings.

Just curious about this process? Send me a confidential email and let’s talk about the process? I’m limited to 12 clients this year, so act fast now.

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Message

One Missing Step That Keeps Things From Getting Done

There is one missing step that many teams forget…

You’ll find it in meetings…

In planning…

In goal-setting…

The missing step?

Asking “Who’s responsible?”

Who is the one person who will be held accountable for each task?

Many teams brainstorm wonderfully…

They come up with awesome plans…

But they never assign the person responsible…

For anything to be successful…

There must be…

Systems in place…

Built in questioning…

Routine accountability….

And someone responsible to see that each task is done…

That’s how the desired outcome becomes reality….

How does your team structure itself to avoid the “missing step”?

A Dangerous Leadership Flaw and 4 Ways to Avoid It

One of the most dangerous things I see leaders do is forget that people are trying to follow. I know because it’s one I have to continue to remember personally. It’s one reason I invite our staff to evaluate me each year.

Have you ever tried to follow someone in a car?

Some are good at that kind of leading and some aren’t…

It’s that way with a team or organization also.

Some leaders get so passionate about what they are thinking and doing that they forget others are trying to keep up. The leader sets the pace for the organization. Make sure that pace doesn’t leave someone behind…unless that’s intentional…which would be the subject of another post.

Wondering how to keep from losing a follower?

Here are four suggestions:

Be open to correction... Don’t be offended when someone honks and says slow down you big dummy…or something like that…

Be vulnerable... Let others help set the pace.

Be self-aware… Realize when you’re going too fast.

Keep looking in the mirror – Check in with people often to make sure they understand where you are going and are able to continue the pace healthfully.

What would you add to my list?

Here’s a hard question every leader should consider:

Are you allowing those attempting to follow you the opportunity to follow?

Leaders Consider the Bigger Issue

In an organizational setting, when little issues arise, I try to consider the bigger issue at stake. Not everything has a bigger context worth considering, but strategic leaders consistently consider if there is one.

For example, if a staff member makes an awkward or unusually negative comment during a meeting, I try to consider the bigger issue. Did he or she simply make a random remark, was the comment limited to the meeting, or is there something unspoken going on that could point to a bigger issue in the person’s life or the organization? If I can’t immediately discern, I’ll most likely question this after the meeting.

If I receive criticism from someone I trust, is it limited to the matter being criticized, or is there a bigger, unspoken issue of concern? I’ll always try to discern what isn’t clear, but ask if I need more clarity.

As a leader, I have learned that I don’t always get the full story. As much as I try to lead around that fact, some people are afraid of hurting my feelings, may be intimidated by my position, or just fearful of speaking up with their true feelings.

I discipline myself to always consider bigger issue questions such as:

  • What’s the real problem?
  • What’s really at stake?
  • Who is really affected by this decision?
  • What’s the real potential outcome?
  • How much is this really costing?

I know as a leader that what I don’t know may be the real issue. Discovering it soon enough avoids potential greater damage in the organization.

What other question should we be asking?

Organizational Learning From Google

I read recently that the creators of Google weren’t looking to create Google when they discovered the complex way of indexing pages. They were working on a research project for their PhD program and stumbled upon the genius of google page ranking, did a little more exploration, and the rest is the incredible history of Google. In fact, I also read where, learning from their history, Google allows employees up to 20% of their time to explore new ideas and innovation.

It made me think about how organizations function. Are we organized to discover the next Google?

Let your team explore and you’ll discover some great stuff. Finding the “next big thing” is certainly more difficult without the exploration.

Plus, it’s damaging long-term for a team to be limited in this area of growth potential. If your team isn’t freed to explore:

  • They grow bored
  • Growth stalls
  • Valuable discoveries are never found.

What new insights is your team discovering?

More importantly perhaps, are they being positioned for discovery? Do they even have the freedom, built into your system?