Leaders in this contemporary world must brace themselves for a tsunami of ground noise. Whether in academia, business, politics or any other filed of endeavor, when a leader steps to the plate the chorus from the peanut gallery cranks up. The boos and the cat calls and screamed insults rain down. This unrelenting tidal wave of criticism can be discouraging to say the least and potentially crippling.
Leaders, after being scalded and scalded again and again by this acid rain, can lose their energy, their vision and, at least, their desire to lead. What some call burnout is less often fatigue from over-work, and more often combat fatigue.
"Take more vacations," is the usual prescription.
The problem with the vacation prescription is, when the leader returns from Hawaii, the critics are waiting with their guns drawn. The unrelenting barrage of negative emails, phone calls, complaints and criticisms are there lurking in the office just waiting to pounce. Overwork makes everything worse and learn to recreate is important, but it is not a long term strategy for dealing with the chorus of critics.
Others tell such battered leaders, hey, toughen up. Get a thicker hide. Learn to let it roll off you like water off a duck's back. Again, despite being some rather stale platitudes, that is all good advice. I disagree with none of it. It is just not sufficient in the face of the constant harangues. Leaders need more.
I certainly do not want to simply add my own list of platitudes, but having endured the withering fire of critics and boo birds, I offer these four thoughts gained in some painful seasons of leadership. I hope they help.
1. Surround yourself with strong personal support. You need friends, loyal staff, encouraging family members pouring edifying comments on you. I am not talking about a pity party. I mean encouragement. Faith-building affirmation is the antidote to the poison of cruel criticism. You need people around you reminding you of who you are, of your gifts and graces and the high calling on your life. Do NOT shrug off the encouragement of your allies and then take to heart the words of your critics. Furthermore, you need a little medicine poured into your bruised ego. Take your medicine like a big boy. That is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of humanity.
2. Do not read all the mail. Have a secretary shred the horrible stuff. You do not need to even see it. Do not answer it. Do not read it. Do not ask how much of it came in. Let someone else throw it away. It does not deserve an answer. I am not talking about legitimate questions and helpful suggestions from supportive folks. I mean the nut cases, the whiners, the false accusations, and the just plain mean stuff. You do NOT need to see it.
3. Remind yourself of how many are with you, really with you. Your best supporters do not write as many letters but they are there, quietly, faithfully, generously there. Look out at them. There they are, in their pews, behind their desks, doing their jobs --- they are there and there are more of them than the loudmouthed nut jobs. Remind yourself of the many who are with you.
4. Do something fun and exciting. Lead! Build something. Repair something. The momentum, the positive expenditure of energy will feel good to you, give the faithful something to rally around and, best of all, discourage the living daylights out of your enemies.