What has God taught me about this over the past years of being a leader? Have I had darts thrown at me (words of criticism and attacks that felt very personal)? Absolutely! Much more often than I would have liked. Leaders who are bringing about changes, who are boldly moving in the things God has spoken, will automatically attract a certain level of criticism. It’s part of the price, and part of “normal life” for an apostolic leader.
How we handle these darts and those who throw them at us is crucial to both our survival and sustainability as a leader. It affects our emotional health and our overall effectiveness in seeing the things God has spoken to us come about. I have to be honest, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way on this one! I wish I'd had more wisdom in this area years ago. I guess wisdom is gained by experience. I hope though to pass on a few things that have helped, and to help other leaders avoid some of the pain and mistakes I’ve suffered in my learning process.
Three key lessons and principles stand out to me as I reflect on this topic. The first is the importance of DEPERSONALIZING attacks and the criticism that comes. It is so easy to take it personally and to be deeply hurt by words of criticism. Intentionally step back and choose to depersonalize it. Ask God to help you with this. What is this person really saying? What could I learn from what they are saying? Ninety percent of the time it isn’t about you, though it may come across that way and their choice of words may be unkind and immature- “you did this, you said that, you are this”… etc. More likely, the issue is theirs and they are resisting change or reacting to you because you unknowingly hit on something sensitive for them.
The second thing that helps me is to ask God to give me EMPATHY toward this person. Ask God to show you what they are feeling. Ask Him to give you genuine compassion for them, eyes to see them as His beloved creation and as children who are much loved by God. This is not easy. Our natural fight or flight nature kicks in and the last thing we want to do is empathize with them! We want to run away or attack back! Take a deep breath, don’t fire back an immediate email response (this is not the right time for the 3 minute manager rule, ok?) Pause. Chose to wait to respond until you have allowed God to give you his perspective on the person, to value them and their feelings.
The last thing (and this certainly is not an exhaustive list) that truly helps me is DISTANCE. This isn’t the same as running away from them or the problem. I need to say, however, that there are some people who are constantly critical, negative and unkind. With these people I intentionally put some space between myself and them. I move away so the darts don’t hit me. You do not have to stay close to them or stay engaged with them and be a martyr. Love yourself enough to set boundaries on the amount of time you will interact with dart throwers, with people who are hurt, angry and like to criticize you (or often everything). Henry Cloud in his excellent book called “Boundaries for Leaders” writes about the importance of limiting negativity in our lives and work places. Its okay to give yourself space to heal and its okay to choose not to have dart throwers in your inner circle of friends and those you work closest with.
Keep loving, keep forgiving, stay humble, keep learning, and be gracious with both yourself and the dart throwers. Dart throwers have helped me learn to be more cautious about throwing darts myself. I try hard to depersonalize issues, be specific and offer solutions and alternatives not just criticism when I'm unhappy about something these days. I can honestly thank God for the role they have played in my life and what they have taught me. I hope one day you will be able to do that too.