Those entrusted with leadership in any capacity will inevitably receive criticism from others. If not dealt with appropriately, this can be a great cause of discouragement and even burnout.
Here are five helpful principles for responding to criticism:
1) Never entertain anonymous criticism.
If someone has the courage to offer criticism, they should also have the courage to reveal their identity. This is a vital principle for leaders to understand. “Anonymous” critiques can be greatly discouraging, and without knowing the source, it’s impossible to follow up with dialogue. It can be tempting to listen to anonymous criticism, but trust me, it’s not worth the time or energy.
2) Consider the source of the criticism.
Not all criticism should be weighed equally. If a trusted colleague offers a critique, it should be taken more seriously than a mere acquaintance. The motive behind the complaint should also be considered. Is the person trying to be constructive and helpful, or are they lashing out from a place of pain in their life? The leader may simply be caught in the line of fire as the closest target of the moment.
3) Look for the “kernel of truth” in the criticism.
It might be the case that a criticism is not entirely true; however, it still may contain elements of truth. The leader should ask, “To what degree is this complaint valid? What can I learn here?” It can be easy to discount criticisms, which should be considered more seriously. Ask God to replace defensiveness with humility in your heart.
4) Get trusted feedback regarding the criticism.
Other people around you can help to evaluate if a complaint is valid or invalid. This is the beauty of a leadership team. Trusted advisors can help us see blind spots in our lives, and believe me, everyone has blind spots. Sometimes the “sting” of the criticism can hinder us from honestly and objectively considering the issues involved, especially if the complaint is a personal attack.
5) Look to God.
The most important thing to remember regarding criticism is to allow it to push you toward God. Take the pain and frustration to him. If the leader does not stand firmly in his identity in Jesus, he will pursue identity and significance in personal performance and affirmation from others. Only through Jesus Christ is anyone adequate for the weighty realities of one’s calling (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6). The renowned British pastor and preacher C.H. Spurgeon experienced tremendous criticisms, complaints, and attacks throughout his leadership tenure. In seasons of criticism, author Zach Eswine explains how Spurgeon took “his deep wounds in full-hearted conversation to his Savior…On his knees, amid the practical steps and personal help of his wife, Spurgeon found strength from personal communion with his Lord.”
It’s important to remember, ultimately, that God wants to use criticisms we receive to transform us into the likeness of his Son, Jesus. Don’t run or recoil from criticism. Instead, turn your critics into your coaches.
 Zach Eswine, Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C.H. Spurgeon Can Help Your Preaching (Glasgow, Scotland: Mentor, 2006), 200.