Dealing with Criticism as a Leader: Part 1

Dealing with Criticism as a Leader: Part 1

Anyone in a prominent position, in any type of leadership, is going to receive criticism by the bucketful. It comes with the job. And while criticism naturally hurts, it’s wonderful for growth. But what if the critique is misplaced or destructive? I’ve developed 12 tips from my time as a pastor and leader in other arenas. Hopefully these will help you face criticism well!

  1. Know the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Whenever you get criticism, know the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Here are some questions that you can keep with you to ask to know the difference.
    1. Was its purpose do build you up or tear you down? If someone is criticizing you, ask yourself, “Is this to hurt me or to help me?” A lot of the time criticism is really just emotional dumping. One of the greatest challenges leaders face is questioning a critic without being defensive. Actually look at the issue head on, don’t react in anger or defense.
    2. What attitude was the criticism given in? Was it judgmental or gentle? In other words, how did they come across? If they are growling at you, what do you think that is? I think that’s probably emotional dumping.
    3. Was it in public or was it private? I can guarantee you that any legitimate criticism will always be in private. If the criticism is delivered repeatedly in front of the people you lead, that’s a pretty good sign of destructive criticism. If someone is truly trying to help and not start a rebellion, they won’t degrade the authority of the leader.
    4. Was it out of the person’s own personal hurt (emotional dumping) or for your personal benefit? A lot of times, criticism sounds legitimate but the real issue is what’s in the critic’s heart. When I first starting pastoring, at 24 years old, this well-to-do business man in the local community and I started talking. After a couple of months, he began to criticize me about the finances of the church. Well, at that time I wasn’t even handling the finances. And so I couldn’t figure it out. As a matter of fact at that particular time I wasn’t even getting paid yet. Come to find out, he had filed bankruptcy five times.
  2.  Identify the source of the criticism. In other words, know the person who’s criticizing. If somebody comes and says “This was said about such and such!” my first questions is always “Who said it?” If the person has a pattern of criticism in their life it’s probably questionable criticism. Even if it’s legit, I probably won’t listen. It’s kind of like the little boy who cried wolf. Back as a pastor I would get people who repeatedly came up to me and said things like: “Well I can’t believe that didn’t bother you!” No, that didn’t bother me at all. It ought not bother you either! This is why if somebody is criticizing you about your leadership, you’ve got to be able to size up that situation and consider the source. What’s the other side of this? If the criticism comes from someone who normally doesn’t criticize, and who generally has a positive attitude, then I ask, “Now are they going through something right now I don’t know about?” Are they hurting? And if the answer is no, then I listen to that criticism, because that person is probably seeing something I don’t see.
  3. Compare the person’s own problems to what they are criticizing about you. People have a tendency to project their own problems onto other people. One of the first things that I discover if someone is talking about me as the Senior Pastor, not being loving and accepting and spending enough time with whoever, one of the first things I realize about that, if I’m hearing that, is that the issue is not me it’s that person’s need of love and acceptance in their life. That’s the real issue. They need love and acceptance, that’s why they’re projecting and they probably never got it from an authority figure anyway. If you’re in leadership in some arena they’ll feel the same way about you. So the key here is this, compare the person’s own problems to what they are criticizing. If people are angry at themselves, you can bank on it, they’re going to be angry at you. Quit owning other people’s problems.

Would you be willing to share a time you received criticism as a leader? How did you handle it?

Join me this Friday for the second part of this series and every Monday for tips on entrepreneurship and leadership.


Billy Epperhart
Billy Epperhart
  • Glenn Shaffer
    Posted at 06:40h, 09 May Reply

    Billy, good article. In response to your request to offer tips on how to handle criticism, would I be too forward to offer a blog that I wrote some time back about how to handle criticism?

    • Billy
      Posted at 13:20h, 11 May Reply

      Not too forward at all! That’s a wonderful post. What do you think about me using it as a guest blog? Let me know, I’ll link back to you!


  • Tim Hudspeth
    Posted at 16:35h, 03 May Reply

    The time I received Constructive Criticism that I thought destructive from the most critical person I knew: The criticism I received from this person was my defining moment, a pivotal, life changing, point in my life.
    It was during my time as a young manager, responsible for a large group of people and a big multi functioning operation. I was pridefully thinking that all the frustrations and issues I was dealing with was a result of my group of employees rebelling and not complying with my directions. It was always some one else’s fault and, of course, not my own. The frustration grew to a point of great stress and anxiety. My home life was suffering and my health was experiencing the same. After another long sleepless night, the most critical person I knew met me and said the most critical, destructive, words I had heard. There at the bathroom sink I met him. He looked me straight in the eyes and said ” maybe, you are the problem”. His eyes looked deep into my troubled soul and I felt something break. That break through was pride taking a fall and truth taking root. The truth that I was indeed the problem and not the people or situations around me. The eyes were mine, the troubled soul was mine and the person speaking those destructive but soul freeing words was me. As I stood looking into that mirror that morning I came face to face with the reality of truth. No more lies, no more excuses and no more blaming others. The most critical person I knew had spoken the truth in true humility and love. It changed, forever, how I handled myself and those I came into contact with. It set me free.

  • Pam Pearson
    Posted at 21:07h, 04 May Reply

    Thank you Billy for your fantastic website! Would love to year your input!

  • Pingback:How to Handle Criticism - Billy Eppherhart
    Posted at 15:53h, 15 June Reply

    […] compare with my four-part series on handling criticism as a leader, click these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part […]

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