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How to Endure a Critical, Non-supportive Leader

By December 3, 2014Church, Leadership

I was talking to a younger leader recently. He is feeling under-appreciated. His boss, the senior leader, never notices the work that he is doing. Even worse, for this senior leader, crisitcism flows easily. He never misses a mistake.

I get it. That leader could be me at times. I’m bad about celebrating. I’m wired for constant improvement. It’s something I’m conscious of and work on, but it takes consistent discipline on my part.

On the other hand, the new generation of leaders were born into a system that afforded instant and constant recognition. In my days, A’s were expected in school. So we didn’t always celebrate them. If we did it was at the end of the year. These days an A on a test may get a steak dinner.

I’m not criticizing. And, I’m not making excuses. My generation enabled this generation. I am just pointing out a difference in generational expectations. So, the reality is this senior leader may not even recognize the problem this younger leader is experiencing. He doesn’t see the problems with the way he is leading.

And, I’m not saying that as an excuse. From the way this senior leader was described to me, his behavior is wrong, demeaning, and certainly not conducive to produce the most excellent team environment or one that develops leaders — in my opinion — in any generation.

But, the question from this younger leader was how to respond. For a variety of reasons, he doesn’t feel the freedom to move on to something new right now. So what does he do today?

Well, first and foremost I told this younger leader he should not get his hopes up that things might change anytime soon. They might. Maybe the leader will read the right book or some masterful blog post and a conversion experience will occur in how this leader leads. Not likely.

But, what I can say is that, in spite of the deficiency in his leadership, the senior leader probably still has something he can teach the younger leader. S0, be respectful. There will likely be other occasions in his leadership where he will have to display respect to someone even if he doesn’t agree with them. Maybe just to keep his job. Maybe even to be obedient to Scripture. (Romans 13)

The fact is the way we honor those we don’t naturally respect says a lot about our character.

But, the other thing I would say. And, I think this is huge.

You can learn good principles under bad leadership.

You can. You can learn what not to do by watching what others do wrong. Right now this young leader is developing good leadership practices by acknowledging what has injured him that he would never do to injure someone he is leading.

Take notes.

Grow. Learn.

Prepare now for how you’ll lead then.

We will always need better leaders. Be one. And, if you’re serving under a critical, non-supportive leader, you’re in a great training ground.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Jill says:

    This falls under the area of “leading” or “conducting” others (like how a conductor does a symphony) and motivating others to get things done and even helping the organization grow. How do you do it correctly and effectively putting grace and truth together?

    He can take stalk of what the leader is doing correct, what what does it look like when a good leader is doing this area correctly. Can see what other areas the leader has a lack in and find out how to do them correctly. Or what does it look like correctly?

    This is a good time to learn while the other leader handling the responsibilities he doesn’t have to handle right now.

    Also learn to build immunities to when someone is more critical than has grace. A lot of times you meet critical people in upper management because people pleasers will turn the organization into a big mushy mess and the people they are supposed to be serving won’t be served well and organization has broken down. The critical people keep it running well, but haven’t learned how to do it with the right tone and celebrate what is going right.

    There is also nothing wrong with taking the leader aside and saying he feels like can the leader tell him what he’s doing right along with what needs to be improved in his feedback. It will help him take in the other feedback to be told what he’s doing right once in a while.

  • MThiessen says:

    Reminds me of the idea of toxic leadership/workplaces, but I like your spin on it–that we can actually learn from a toxic boss. (See Drs. Chapman & White's book Rising Above a Toxic Workplace).

  • SO true! "You can. You can learn what not to do by watching what others do wrong. Right now this young leader is developing good leadership practices by acknowledging what has injured him that he would never do to injure someone he is leading."

  • cycleguy says:

    This is good advice Ron. I have faced this only once and that was when I was quite a bit younger and didn't handle it very well at all. The only "blip" on the radar since I have been here is a man who thinks he is a leader (but not seen that way by anyone who is in leadership) wants me dismissed or to move on. His pride was hurt back in 2011 and he has never gotten over it. Sometime during 2011 he came to a lunch we were having and ripped me up one side and down the other. When he was done, he left (his modus operandi) and I told those who did matter that if they "felt the same way I was done. I am too old and too much of a "veteran" to put up with that garbage." They said, "No way." I have had their ultimate support ever since and the man, while his body language shows his dislike/discontent, has absolutely no support by anyone. I choose to love him.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for sharing. Your comment actually stirs some additional thoughts that may develop into another post. The one thing about this generation of older leaders is you can push back against them and they will still respect you. Maybe even more

      • @mdsisk says:

        Great point, Ron. More seasoned executives often accept critique better than younger leaders. We would do well to remember that we're put precisely in that spot to serve those in authority over us, particularly through our example.

  • Maren says:

    Thanks for the many great leadership tips, I'm currently working as a young manager in a new position, so this is very useful for me.