The Number One Way Leaders Get Derailed

Recently, I wrote about how leaders must learn to handle criticism and overlook offenses. I think this is the number one way that leaders can get derailed and rendered ineffective.

Shimei cursing David as he flees from Absalom (see 2 Samuel 16)

Shimei cursing David as he flees from Absalom (see 2 Samuel 16)

A few days ago, I ran into a story in reading the Desert Fathers, that illustrated the point beautifully:

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A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.’ So the old man said, ‘Go to the cemetery and insult the dead.’ The brother went there, hurled insults and stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, ‘Didn’t they say anything to you?’ He replied, ‘No.’

“The old man said, ‘Go back tomorrow and praise them.’ So the brother went away and praised them, calling them Apostles, saints and blessed people. He returned to the old man and said to him, ‘I have complimented them.’ And the old man said to him, ‘Did they not answer you?’ the brother said, ‘No.’

“The old man said to him, ‘You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you, too, if you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of others or their praises, and you can be saved.’”

Note: In the language of the fathers, the phrase “be saved” should be understood as “be sanctified.” They had a much more expansive view of salvation than we moderns. It included conversion, sanctification, and glorification.

So next time you are offended, take these four action steps:

  1. Acknowledge to yourself that you were offended. There’s no sense pretending. It hurts to be offended. You can’t transcend what you don’t acknowledge.
  2. Remind yourself that being offended is a choice. You don’t have to be offended. One of the things that makes you uniquely human is you have a choice how you can respond to what happens to you.
  3. Remember that you are dead to these things. If you are a Christian, St. Paul says, “you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (see Colossians 3:3). You don’t have to obsess about these things and let them consume your thinking.
  4. Forgive the other person and let it go. This is literally what the Greek word apoluo. It means: “to set free, to release, to pardon a prisoner or release a debtor.” As someone once said, “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Effective leaders have learned to overlook offenses. They are mindful of Solomon’s admonition: “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)

Question: What are you learning about taking “no account of the scorn of others or their praises”? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Gospel lab

    This is a great post about being dead to the world.

    Sometimes it is not just the world; it is also ourselves.

    We should also be dead to ourselves and not think more highly of our self than we should.

    Sometimes it is the inner man that we struggle with more than the world. We can shut the world out, but the inner man is on the same side of the door as we are.

    That is why we should look more at the Man on the cross instead of the man in the mirror.

  • Joyce Lawrence

    As a 58 year old American woman, wife, and mother of two teenage boys, I have just realized, that I have not only taken account of the scorn of others (for 50 years now) but I have accumulated it, as in a big pile of dirt under my living room rug, only its been lying in my head wasting space for so long… breathing, seething, and keeping me from being a fuller human being, a better mother, a better wife. As to the praises of others, because I’ve always been aware of my own shortcomings, compliments have never gone to my head. Thank you for giving me the free space in my own mind to make my next 50 years powerful, positive, productive and worthwhile.

    • Michael Hyatt

      May God grant you another 50 years!

  • Michael Paddy

    Is that not at the heart of both the Gospel and the Beatitudes…no matter what our status in life, the lofty praise or lowest insult…all should be placed on the mantle of the Lord’s redeeming grace….wonderful post Michael!

  • Mary C.

    I’m always enriched by your content, but this week has been especially reaching me where I am. Thank you!

  • TNeal

    Just an observation. You seem to be writing about more personal issues, closer to the soul, in your most recent blogs. I’m curious, and will find out at the end of the month, if you’ve noticed a greater response to these issues.

    Another observation as one who’s followed you the last couple of years, your weekly output has risen noticeably. Of course, if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have noticed.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think your observations are spot-on. I am trying to post five days a week, mainly because this has become my journal. People do seem to respond to the personal issues. I am trying to go first, sharing my own struggles, in order to give others the gift of going second. Thanks.

      • Mark McDonald

        Michael Please also know that many of respond to your personal sharing even if we don’t comment. I have implemented so much of your content yet I am only just getting into making comments after reading for almost a year.

        • Michael Hyatt

          Thanks, Mark. I know that is true.

  • Daniel Becerra

    True. The enemy will use just about every method to prevent us from becoming sanctified. He will either use insults so we get offended and hold grudges, or he will use men’s praise so that we will lift ourselves up, and not Jesus.

    To answer your question, I believe prayer holds us accountable to God. It is on those moments of prayer that God warns us about being mindul of either scorns or praises.

  • Mark D.

    Thank you for taking the time to share with us. There is some wisdom here I should apply in my life–today.

  • Donna Perugini

    When my children were young I wrote the book, DON’T HUG A GRUDGE. I always thought it was because of being inspired by my children’s behavior. Now I’m older and see that I wrote the children’s book because I’d lived it! Reading it every so often still brings me back to the truth.
    Thank you for your revealing posting.

  • Jeff Clarke

    My only concern centers on one area of omission. Forgiveness is essential and your advice can prove to be helpful. However, I also think that sometimes criticism can hold some elements of truth that need to be mined and analyzed. While much of what was said may be easily dismissed as mere rhetoric, and while the method may have been highly negative and hurtful, sometimes truth statements can be taken from it. If we decipher those statements and take the necessary steps to implement them, we can become better people as a result. By automatically dismissing any and all criticism, we may actually miss an opportunity to grow.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s a fair point, Jeff.

  • MaDonna Maurer

    I can choose to be offended or not. I like this…I can acknowledge that I’ve been offended, then choose to not be and respond in love. Yep, I’d say I’m learning the art of “choosing” my responses.

  • Cassandra Frear

    Intriguing. I remember reading Watchman Nee — he wrote about this same idea. Mercy is life and breath to us, no matter what our calling. I believe that most sins are planted in the heart when forgiveness is lacking and a grudge of some kind is held. Keeping account of offenses seems to somehow lay a platform for other sins to develop.

  • Mark McDonald

    Wow this is so hard. I find it very hard to work with someone who has offended me. I am nice to their face but I find it very hard to trust them again. I usually pass leadership opportunities onto some else. Sometime I just need time in my cave to get over it.

  • Alisahopewagner

    Well, I totally needed this one today! I especially love #1. So many times I try to act like I haven’t been offended. It’s just better to admit my weakness and get on with it.

  • Erykhood


  • Chris MacKinnon

    Ministry is a world full of offenses. Whether they are personal or professional, we have to let them go. I learned in my first ministry position that if I was going to hold on to anything I was going to end up searching for a different calling. In fact, confidence in the “call” is what kept me going.

    I think a key to this is know who you are, prepare and educate yourself, and do what you think needs to be done. We can’t be prideful, we have to be real; but we have to know ourselves and our God well enough to stand tall.

    Of course, as the story mentions, we have to learn to ignore the “praises” as well as the insults. That can often be more difficult.

  • PoulAndreassen

    It is amazing to know that there are articles like this on web..Great article

  • Jesse Phillips

    Holy Crap! Good stuff!!!! THANK YOU Michael, this will literally change my life. Thank you.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Now that is an enthusiastic response.

  • Jeff Jones

    I wrote on my blog the other day that I am most thankful that God doesn’t operate on the “fool me once, shame on you but fool me twice, shame on me” way of thinking. Not that I could fool God but I have given him reason to hold me at arm’s length. Fortunately, he doesn’t so why should I treat people any differently?

  • Tom Moucka

    Thanks Mike – excellent word. I haven’t spent time with the Desert Fathers in years. My bad.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am astonished every time I read them. I wish I did a better job of doing it regularly.

  • Some Wise Guy

    This is solid stuff.

    I recently had a situation where I had been verbally insulted and (remembering your post) instead of getting all worked up decided not to take offense and just let it go.

    The result: the individual came over to my desk to apologize for their behavior and our working relationship has improved.

    Thank you. It works.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Good for you. This is a great testimony.

  • Brad Farris

    I know I’m late to the party with this comment, but I spent some time thinking about it. There was a turning point for my leadership when I realized that I wanted criticism, it’s valuable to me. Now not all criticism is valuable, sometimes the person is uninformed, or projecting issues onto me that aren’t coming out of me; but more times than not there is something there that I need to hear. When you are a leader people tend to tell you things that will make you feel good, or be happy, and if I find someone who will tell me the truth (my wife, my small group, certain peers) I hold on to what that person is telling me. I value it highly.

    What I’m saying is that I still have a long way to go to be the best that I can be, and critics are often the fodder to push me to achieve more, do better, and get better results.

    I’m thinking I need to work on a blog post about this for my own blog…

    • Brandon

      True…there will be people that encourage you by criticism and there will be those that bring you down from flattery… true friends with be contructive!

  • Jenny Herman

    What a fantastic story–thanks for sharing! Sadly I have observed in others how holding on to offenses can ruin them. By God’s grace I am learning to let go.

  • Brandon

    Great post, Michael!

  • Brandon

    Hey Michael!

    I meant to ask you- does technorati do anything to improve your site? I recently signed up, but I’m not sure if it really does anything? Hoping you could give me what you think about it… Thanks!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I really don’t think so. I got excited about it a few years ago, but I don’t think it has moved the needle.

  • Eric Speir

    Great post! Many of us often think that this kind of problem does not apply to us because we assume that we are forgiving people. It’s only when we are offended by someone that we are reminded of how human we really are! To be human is to get offended by someone :)

  • Chris Denning

    I think that Step 3 is where I have the hardest time. I have a hard time letting things go when no justice is guaranteed. When, in actuality, God has already claim justice for himself in all things. I think it comes down to a prideful heart, and not being ok with being wronged. Recognizing this pride and deciding that I’m dead to it and hid within Christ, is definitely the way to address it. Well said.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Chris. I think following Jesus example is also helpful: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21–23).

  • Wayne Hedlund

    I just started following your blog about two weeks ago and have really appreciated your great wisdom and content. This article rings so true. I’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is letting someone else live inside you – rent free. How sad that we can so easily imprison ourselves in that way.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is a great quote. I have added it to my Quote Notebook in Evernote.

  • Svt1999

    Very Cool… I’m glad I found your blog!!

    Common Cents

  • Shannon Lewis

    Heard this at ReCreate11 and was attempting to share it with my wife. That’s for posting this in your blog! Sad I didn’t actually meet you. Maybe next year.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I hope so. I plan to be there. This years Re:create was the best ever!

  • Cyberquill

    I had no idea Abba was mentioned in the Bible. Must be the Swedish edition.

    The question arises whether Abba is suggesting that we should ignore all feedback as if we were dead.

  • Jeff Goins

    I really enjoyed hearing you teach on this at re:create this past week, Michael. Good stuff – thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jeff. I saw you a coupe of times but didn’t get to say high. I also enjoyed your guest post on Randy’s blog and your video shorts from the conference.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jeff. I saw you a coupe of times but didn’t get to say hi. I also enjoyed your guest post on Randy’s blog and your video shorts from the conference.

  • Paul Pierquet

    Thanks Michael. I needed to read this.

  • Aaron Armstrong

    Out of curiosity (but hopefully not too off-topic) have you read Gene Edwards’ Tale of Three Kings? The post reminded me of some of the application points I picked up from that book, particularly point three.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I have, but it was years and years ago. I need to re-read.

  • Nikole Hahn

    That’s a tough lesson for me to learn. It’s a work in progress. When people anger me I tend to hold onto that for a little while, not forever, but long enough. It dwindles down to annoyance eventually whenever I see them. What I need to learn as a leader is that I CANNOT change people. God can, but I CANNOT. What I need to learn is patience, long suffering, and to hold onto a gentle spirit.

  • William Seidman

    I think this is a very insightful post. We have developed a number of leadership programs based on the idea of “positive deviant” leaders. “Authenticity” is always a key element of being an effective leader. Authentically understanding and acknowledging to yourself that you are offended appears to be a key attribute of leadership.

    But how to best handle a feeling that can be incredibly powerful? In his new book “Your Brain at Work,” David Rock discusses the neuroscience of “re-appraisal” which I think is more commonly referred to as “reframing.” The key to handling offense is to reframe it away from being a personal attack to just an event, and to look for and connect with the underlying reason for the offense. Authentically doing just these few things can make a big difference is being an effective leader.

  • Becky

    Great post! The difficulty with forgiving someone is so hard, but there seems to be peace. I really enjoy your insight on this. I’d love to read more on this topic.

    I recently stumbled upon another blog like I stumbled upon yours and I really appreciated their insight. I thought you might enjoy it:

    I’d love to see more like it. Thanks!

  • Eleanorswan

    Sir, I thank you for the kind sharing of your God given knowledge to help us as leaders to be effective in the Kingdom. I am inspired and am ready to pass on the knowledge. Thank you and God bless you.

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  • Jane Bromley

    Great article. Thank you.
    The choice part is so key. After all, if we choose to take offence it does not good at all and generally the only person we hurt by doing so is ourselves!

    I read something similar a while ago. It said “What people think of you is none of your business”.

    The forgiveness part can be tough. A guy called Bijan helped me there. He tells a great story of how someone cut him up as he was driving. He realised afterwards that in the past he had done something similar. So, by forgiving this other driver he had a chance to forgive himself too.


  • Emma-Lee

    Unforgiveness…having things fester only to see them affect decisions and actions later on. I see that everyday in my workplace and Church…very unfortunate. Thank God that I have chosen to learn from others for my own good.