Armchair critics - how to respond well

Armchair critics - how to respond well

11 June 2024


Armchair critics - how to respond well

How well do you respond to criticism?

This is perhaps one of the most “make or break” questions we must contend with in our lives and leadership.

The very nature of leadership requires a readiness to stick your neck out, make tough calls and take a stand when you need to. As church school leaders navigating an increasingly complex societal and cultural landscape, this can often leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable.  Any of us who have had skin in the game for more than five minutes will have taken some hard knocks, and received more than our fair share of criticism. 

This can evoke two common responses within us; to “armour up” or “shrink back”.

The problem with “armouring up” is that whilst putting on our defensive armour offers a degree of protection; it’s heavy and tiring after a while. As human beings made in the image of a relational God, we long for connection - with ourselves, God and others. Armour limits and restricts this capacity and robs us of joy, creativity and connection in the long run.

“Shrinking back” on the other hand, in a bid to draw less attention and criticism to ourselves prevents us from stepping into our full God given potential. We stop taking risks and live from a place of fear rather than love. In so doing, we deny ourselves and our schools the unique gift we have to offer the world. 

So, what is the alternative? 

According to author and social researcher Brene Brown, the secret lies not in ignoring the critics. On the contrary, she argues you should accept they will show up at any and every event and so you should be sure to reserve them a seat. The vital thing to ensure however, is that it’s not the best seat in the house! That is reserved only for those who are also “in the arena” taking some hits for being faithful to their calling. Those are the opinions that matter and voices you should give weight to. For in the now infamous words of Former US President Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

Whatever challenges you may be facing right now, I pray those words offer both comfort and challenge as you enter into the final leg of this academic year. Afterall, it’s not the critic who counts!


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