Getting criticized? Welcome to being a leader.

We had a great Love Feast the other week—you know what Joshua promptly did after? He sent out an evaluation to us so we could discuss what went well and what didn’t. The Feast was great—high energy, twelve new people made a covenant, communion is moving, the team leading us to worship was amazing. But still, we evaluated and pondered how we might do it better next time. We think that self-evaluation is a crucial part of being a leader. And we think that leaders themselves need to be accountable to their actions since they are normally serving many people.

But it’s not surprising that a lot of leaders shy away from such humility because they are leading in front of everyone else, they are head of the curve usually, and the flock that they are ushering to the next place is often behind them. It’s easy to throw tomatoes at our leaders because they are often in error, and their mistakes are so easily showcased since they are usually done in public. Many leaders are already self-conscious narcissists, so they end up being particularly sensitive to criticism. That intense atmosphere of criticism can lead to inaction. I think this happens for two reasons:

1)    Sometimes leaders work toward perfection to avoid criticism. They can never compromise—and the result is painful inaction.

2)    Other times, the paralysis starts before they even try anything. Rather than tiring themselves out trying to be perfect, leaders just don’t try because when they do, it just gets criticized. Their anxiety leads them.

I’m thankful that we do a lot of self-evaluation in Circle of Hope, and we also don’t think you need to be an expert to lead and so the result is a lot of action and a lot of learning. Leaders need to do things. They need to execute. They need to make decisions. Those decisions might lead to conflict or criticism that they need to endure.

In her column last week, Maureen Dowd pointed out Barack Obama’s inability to be decisive. Barack is in an environment in which it is unfortunately difficult to make decisions, but that is only a good excuse for so long. Dowd argues that Obama lacks a dynamic rhetorical presence, a debilitating defensiveness, and an arrogance that she says he conveys as lèse-majesté when he sense any difference of opinion. Obama isn’t known for his resoluteness, but rather his smugness—the feeling that we all get that he’s the smartest person in the room despite his economic record and his foreign policy disasters.

My advice? Make a decision and then evaluate how well it made. The idea of not making a choice and settling on the tininess that we can get away with without being noticed is not working. The long-con only works when you are making significant strides to distract us. All we see is inaction and worsening press conferences. Keep in mind that deciding to not to do something, but to listen, and to wait can also be perfectly fine actions—but they need to be widely communicated and the constituency that one serves needs to be convinced of your decision not to be active, as well. And that goes for any choice you make. The President’s activity may be fine, but he is doing nothing to convince me or anyone else that it is.

Amazingly enough, if you look to the NBA and its bold commissioner, you see an example of that kind of decisive leadership that many leaders lack. When Donald Sterling was blatantly and unapologetically racist—Adam Silver fined him the maximum fine the league would allow and banned him for life. Many lauded the decision as honorable and decent. Many players supported Silver’s decision.

At the same time, many people were unsatisfied with the decision because they felt like it didn’t solve the real problem of racism in the NBA (just like the G.O.P. distancing themselves from Cliven Bundy’s racism doesn’t make them any less racist). The racism that’s deeply-seated in the U.S. has even reached the NAACP, who was about to award Sterling for his contributions over time.

I think Silver’s detractors—which range from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who always seems to have a chip on his shoulder) to Roxane Gay in Salon to the libertarian and outspoken Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks (who eventually fell in line and supported Silver)—are making a good point. It is true that the culture of systemic racism in the NBA and at large isn’t solved by this one choice. But it certainly was a good one—and if the NBA and Sterling go to court over it, at least no one will question Silver’s integrity. Say what you will about the effectiveness of punitive measures to achieve justice, but at least Silver’s leading.

It is worthy for Silver to consider the racism that exists in his league and come up with a solution that might solve it. But leaders lead and learn through their crisis. They end up being decisive and thoughtful after the fact.

In Romans 8, I think that is what Paul is talking about when he says that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Those who love God and are called to his purpose are leaders, especially in the church, and when they face the trials and tribulations they can turn an embarrassment, a crisis, or a catastrophe into an opportunity.

If they spend all their energy complaining about their misfortune or if they are fearful of criticism, they might be stuck forever and their best response might be, “well, what would you do?” My best answer: something. And if it doesn’t work? We’ll talk about it.

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