I don’t know about you, but I love being praised…and I hate having things pointed out in my life in a condemning manner.
My pride loves the ego stroking but does not like it when the fur gets stroked in the wrong direction.
And as a leader, I admit it – I can view my influence or how I am perceived like a chess board where I carefully manipulate the pieces to ensure I am viewed as favorably as possible.
But the truth is, both praise and criticism can be harmful for me as a leader.
I was recently listening to a Q&A leadership podcast by Michael Hyatt and he made a statement that really arrested my attention as I thought about its implications. He was quoting a friend, who said…
You have to treat praise and harsh criticism in the same way. You basically plow it under as fertilizer, but you don’t focus on it.
Do you get this? Read it over again and let it do a “slow roast” in your mind. The first sentence is good; the second sentence is a paradigm shift.
What does it mean to treat praise and criticism in the same way? Allow me to illustrate by giving you an example of what it means to treat praise and criticism in different ways.
If left unfiltered, praise sends me to high heights. People think well of me and so I come away with people are pleased with my work and with me as a person. I then note what got me the praise and seek to maintain that status quo. My doing is in response to how I want others to view me. Mountain top experiences feel great and I want to stay there.
If left unfiltered, harsh criticism sends me over the edge. I question who I am and what I do. I replay conversations and actions in my mind, hoping for a little justification. Unrelated comments now all become related to the criticism I faced. My wounds are carried at the surface of who I am. My doing is in response to how I have been perceived and I sink into despair. Confidence wanes. I become a victim. Valley experiences feel cruel and I look for any way possible to escape.
Every been in one or both of those places? I have.
But I like the second sentence of the quote above – “You basically plow it under as fertilizer, but you don’t focus on it.”
The need for fertilizer
Why? Because fertilizer comes in various forms – some smells good and some…doesn’t. But it is valuable because once in the ground it jump starts the growing process and makes for a healthy and vibrant crop. To plow something under as fertilizer speaks of looking ahead and stop staring at the ground and looking back.
In other words, it goes into the ground and is only used for growth. Did you read that? Only used for growth.
The implications for this are noteworthy.
The dangerous thorns of praise
For praise? Take praise in stride. Give thanks to God that you were able to represent Him well and give thanks for the gift of work and the ability to lead. Beyond that? You might be getting into dangerous territory because too much musing leads off into the woods getting stung by the prideful thorns of trusting in your own strength and thinking too high of yourself.
Receive praise with thanksgiving, and then like fertilizer, plow it under and use it for growth for how to continue to serve your people into the future.
The dangerous thorns of criticism
For harsh criticism? Tougher, but the same principle. People, we, me, are flawed and we do not always come to correct conclusions or interpretations. Or things are not said in the right spirit. Or, it is…true. My advice? Study how much God values humility and grace in a life.
He values it…a lot.
Give thanks to God that He works all things to your good. Find even the hint of truth, receive it with grace, and like chaff, throw the rest away. Beyond that? You might be getting into dangerous territory again because too much musing leads off into the same woods getting stung by the prideful thorns of self-affirmation, self-defense, and self-pity.
Receive harsh criticism with grace. I know, I don’t understand your situation and it is hard. I know. I have been there too. But then, like fertilizer, plow it under and use it for growth for how to continue to serve your people into the future.
The rear-view mirror of life
Paul says it this way in Philippians 3:13-14:
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race…
“Forgetting” the praise and “forgetting” the harsh criticism because there is a race ahead to win.
And so consider this quote on “plowing under” again and revel in its wisdom. It will make your highs not so high and your lows not so low. It will create a balanced mindset that allows you, with grace, to move forward properly whether it be praise or harsh criticism.