If you are a leader, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. This happens to good leaders and bad leaders alike. However, good leaders develop the skill of “mining” the gold while discarding slag in each load of criticism.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 11:12-15
Then the people exclaimed to Samuel, “Now where are those men who said, ‘Why should Saul rule over us?’ Bring them here, and we will kill them!” Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!” Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom.” So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy.
Put aside for a moment the fact that you know the rest of Saul’s story—and admittedly, it is a sad one. Yet there were moments when we see why God chose him and gave him the same opportunities that God would later give David. This chapter is a case in point.
Saul was the new leaders in Israel—the nation’s first king. But while he’d won the electoral college—God’s anointing—the popular vote was still coming in. People were still deciding if they wanted him or not. Some didn’t. And when those who didn’t were shown to be short-sighted and foolish—and worthy of being forced to live in Canaan, according to Saul’s sycophants—the new king acted in the most gracious and winsome way imaginable—and he demonstrated a critical posture for godly and good leadership: staying cool when criticized.
If you are a leader, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. You will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented. This happens to good leaders and bad leaders alike. However, good leader develop the skill of “mining” the gold while discarding slag in each load of criticism.
When I was in my early adult years, a friend of mine once received what I perceived was some unfair criticism. My encouragement to him was to consider the source and reject the criticism outright. But he wisely said to me, “I think on this one I will chew up the meat and spit out the bones.”
In other words, he believed there might be an element of truth in the painful things that had been said to him. There was possibly something here that could help sharpen him. Or at the very least, there would be in his response to this situation an opportunity for him to learn and grow.
His wise response revealed my own immaturity and insecurity that day. I would have reacted harshly, (Proverbs 15:1), proudly (Proverbs 15:33) and defensively (Proverbs 15:18), but missed an opportunity to honor God’s word, grow in his wisdom and cement my leadership in the eyes of others. My estimation of this friend grew that day. And over the course of his adult life, he has proven to be a great man.
Long after Saul exited the monarchy, another king arose who was very wise, at least he was when he first began. As we listen to Solomon’s advice, we discover there is always an opportunity to grow in wisdom, understanding and honor through criticism directed toward our leadership. Here are five keys Solomon gives to making criticism and correction, even when it’s unfair and unjustified, work for us:
First, practice open-mindedness. Proverbs 15:31 begins with these words, “He who listens to a …rebuke.” The failure of some people is to quit listening when they find themselves being rebuked, corrected or even challenged. But Solomon says the wise person will tune in rather than tune out when they hear things that are personally unpleasant.
Second, recognize the positive. Solomon calls it “a life-giving rebuke…” (Proverbs 15:31) We need to be open to the possibility that within the criticism is an element of truth that can keep us from harmful behavior in the future. Sometimes we will experience life-draining criticism from people who, perhaps, are speaking out of their own issues and don’t have our best interests in mind. But before we reject their words, we need to look for life-giving nuggets of truth.
Third, reject defensiveness. Simply refuse to discard criticism outright. Solomon talks about the danger of brushing aside valid criticism when he says, “He who ignores discipline despises himself…” (Proverbs 15:32) When we make a practice of seeing the truth or the good in criticism, then the consequences of rejecting it becomes a lot less attractive.
Fourth, embrace criticism as God’s tool. Solomon says “…whoever heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs15:32) He then says “the fear of the Lord teaches wisdom.” (Proverbs 15:33) Solomon is saying that criticism can be a great teacher, a tremendous source of understanding. A person of understanding will see the criticism not just as coming from a human mouthpiece, but from the Lord himself. The New Testament writer of Hebrews says it this way,
“The Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and life. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12: 5 –11)
Benjamin Franklin captured the essence of both the Proverb and the teaching of Hebrews when he said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”
Fifth, cultivate humility. Solomon taught, “…humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 15:33) There is no way we can take a rebuke with a right spirit without humility being a characteristic of our lives. Humility is what disciplines us to hold our tongue and not respond with anger. Humility is what enables us to see the long-term benefits that may be hidden in the criticism. Humility is what enables us to turn unfair and unwarranted criticism, and the person who delivered it, over to God’s care. Humility receives; pride reacts. Humility responds wisely, pride explodes with defensiveness. Humility makes rebuke a growth opportunity, pride shuts the door to a life-giving experience.
At the end of the process, Solomon says, is a life of distinction. When we handle criticism well, we gain understanding and wisdom. And at the end of the day, honor awaits us.