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Facing Gossip and Criticism as a Leader

Facing Gossip and Criticism as a Leader

How to learn from it when others hurt you
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Being a leader means that sometimes people are going to gossip about you and criticize your decisions. I wish I could just breezily say it doesn’t bother me, but I’d be lying. It does. I’ve spent nights lying in bed wondering, Why did she say that about me? Why did my decision make him so angry? Why didn’t they come straight to me with their criticisms instead of talking to everyone else?

Have you ever had a night like that? They make you toss and turn and question your decisions. These are the moments that breed insecurity and resentment.

Men, women, and “stupid” ideas

We know that both men and women can be leaders, and I really don’t think men and women are all that different in how they develop as leaders. They both need to learn the art of confident decision-making, vision-casting, and strong communication. But here’s where I have noticed a significant difference between men and women leaders: how they process criticism and gossip.

Criticism often points to something deeper, and usually indicates something that God wants me to pay attention to.

One day while on staff at a large church, I was sitting in a meeting where we were talking about an upcoming event. One of the men on the team shared an idea he had. Another man spoke up and literally said these words: “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” He then went on to share numerous reasons why he thought the idea was bad. It wasn’t my idea and it had nothing to do with me, but I was dying inside. The criticism made me incredibly uncomfortable, and I was miserable for the guy who had shared the idea. But when I looked over at him, he didn’t seem bothered at all. In fact, after the meeting, the two guys went to lunch together!

I couldn’t believe it! Why wasn’t he angry? Why weren’t his feelings hurt? Why didn’t he come after the guy for attacking him in front of other people? I talked to him about this later, and what he told me was great insight into what I’ve seen in other great men leaders: He didn’t take it personally. He welcomed the opposition because it made him think. He said he trusted that the other man cared about him even if he didn’t care for his idea. He was able to separate the personal relationship from the discussion and move on. Wow!

Beyond my gut reaction

The criticism the man received truly wasn’t personal—it was a critique of an idea. But what about criticism that attacks you as a human? Or what about nasty gossip related to your character or your leadership? It’s hard to separate that from the relationship. It sometimes feels impossible to not take it personally when it’s aimed right at you.

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Sherry Surratt

Sherry Surratt is the CEO and President of MOPS International. Follow her on Twitter @SherrySurratt.

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Selina M. Almodovar

August 18, 2014  12:00pm

You are hitting the nail on the head with this article! Women do tend to take things much more personally when it comes to accepting criticism, and I believe it is because we are putting so much of our hearts into our ideas, plans, and leadership decisions. The metaphor about the sorting laundry is a HUGE help! Something I will have to use on my own. I often bounce a lot of stuff on my husband a lot and he uses truth and love to help me rationalize my thoughts. What yields the strongest reaction in me is when someone (a colleague, etc.) critiques my health coaching business. It has such a deep place in my heart that I want to see it succeed, yet, in order to do so, I must also be willing to get out of my own way and learn from what is being said. Maintaining a "teachable mindset" is huge when it comes to growing and developing from the critiques of others.

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Bronwen Plumb

August 18, 2014  1:47am

A useful article to remember at times of criticism. I suppose it's all about discerning the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. I agree with KB regarding the use of the word 'stupid'. So too, it is often not what is said but how it is said, and of course, who said it. Is the criticiser being malicious, or just not good at articulating their criticism? The criticiser may need a gentle word of correction, on their own, about the way the criticism has been given, or gentle correction if they are prone to criticism. However, it is very important to examine oneself, what one has said and if anything can be learned from it.

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August 17, 2014  2:52pm

Good suggestions; however, I'd still take issue if someone prefaced their criticism of an idea I had by saying it was "stupid," regardless of if they had constructive/valid points or not. I think such language is unprofessional in any working environment, not to mention it contributes toward neutralizing the points made. IMHO if a leadership team is at a table to discuss ideas, they should be able to do so without resorting to labeling people OR their ideas negatively. Most managers/executives I've worked for share the same viewpoint.

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