Why Leaders Cannot Afford to Be Easily Offended

As a leader, you are going to draw fire. People will criticize you. Some will second-guess your decisions. Others will impute motives that aren’t there. A few will falsely accuse you.

A Leader Being Criticized By Another Person - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/BelleMedia, Image #347593

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/BelleMedia

For example, just a few weeks ago, someone wrote a blog post, publicly calling me a hypocrite. I won’t lie: it stung. I was tempted to respond in kind. Thankfully, I didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy. It never is for me. I often have to remind myself of three great truths I have learned—and am still learning—about offenses.

  1. Offenses are inevitable. Jesus Himself said,

    Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” (Matthew 18:7)

    According to the Dictionary.com, woe means, “grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.” Anyone who has been offended understands woe. And, in my experience, it doesn’t get much easier with age.

    But as Jesus also notes, offenses must come. People offend us by what they do (sins of commission) and, sometimes, by what they don’t do (sins of omission). Either way, life affords us daily opportunities to be offended.

    Note that while offenses may be inevitable, Jesus doesn’t let the offender off the hook. They, too, are accountable and will experience their own level of woe.

  2. Offenses can be good for us. This is a hard saying. In the midst of being offended, it is difficult to believe that any good could come out of it, let alone that God might have a bigger purpose in mind. But consider two examples from the Bible.

    The patriarch Joseph was ridiculed, kidnapped, and then sold into slavery by his own brothers. He was later falsely accused of attempting to seduce the wife of a high-ranking, Egyptian official. He spent several years in prison, and it was years before he was vindicated.

    He could have been very angry with his brothers. Years later, when he finally meets up with them again, he is in a position of tremendous power. He could easily have had his revenge. Instead, Joseph said to them,

    Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19–20)

    Or consider King David. In the latter part of his life, he was chased out of Jerusalem by his treasonous son, Absalom. If that weren’t bad enough, a character named Shimei meets him on the road and starts throwing rocks at him. He curses the king and reminds him of all his sins. He says,

    Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” (2 Samuel 16:7, 8)

    Abishai, one of King David’s servants, said, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” But note how David responded:

    Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.” (2 Samuel 16:11, 12).

    It’s easy to resent those who offend us. But what if God has a deep and important purpose for sending them—something that He intends for our good because He truly loves us (see Romans 8:28).

  3. Being offended is a choice. Every leader should memorize this verse:

    The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)

    There are certainly times when it is legitimate to be angry. The Apostle Paul says, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger can be a valid response to something that is wrong. But it can quickly become toxic—not only for those to whom we direct it but also for ourselves. This is why the Apostle James admonishes us to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19, 20).

    Between the stimulus and the response is the power to chose. This is precisely what makes us human. We don’t have to respond in kind.

The greatest leaders I know are not easily offended. Instead, they practice the habit of overlooking offenses. They take the high road, give the offender the benefit of the doubt, and move on. What about you?

Question: What can you do to become less likely to be offended? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    This is a tough one for me. I take things too personally too often. It’s been a continual struggle to stop being offended so easily. I think I’ve done pretty good, but have to stay on top of it to keep it that way. Thanks for a very helpful reminder today, Michael!

  • http://twitter.com/jtmtweets Jon Manning

    If people are bashing you or criticizing you maybe that just means we are doing our jobs as christians. God never said it was going to be easy or that we would be going with the main stream flow. That doesn’t give us a right to be militant or anything but. It does mean that maybe when we are being criticized we should take that as a good sign and move forward. The early disciples we persecuted and hated because they stepped out against culture. Yes, of course they were also under Roman rule.

    But more than that, the Jews would follow them around and try and misdirect the ‘new converts’ and force them under the old Law and totally try to derail what God was doing. (n0, I’m not trying to start a new covenant VS old covenant OR relevance of the Mosaic law in contemporary christianity conversation) But I am trying to say that they were persecuted by the leaders and ‘big wigs’ of their day.

    Maybe us being criticized or name called by others is a good sign we’re on the right track. Obviously we should see what our critics are saying to see if there is any validity and God is trying to speak to us through them. But all in all. We’ll always have critics. How we as Christians and The Church respond will show what we believe about Him who sent us.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yep, I think that is a valid point. Jesus promised this to us.

  • http://twitter.com/fattychris Christopher

    It is easy to take offense to things people say. Just the other day I was rebuked by a high schooler over a misunderstanding. It was hard to take his comments, but by keeping my head on straight, we were able to work it out.

  • http://twitter.com/CissieGLynch Cissie Graham Lynch

    Thank you for these great reminders. It is very important to remind yourself of these, especially when you work in ministry and people are always watching.

  • Anonymous

    Great reminder. Perfect timing as I deal with an offense from this week. Thanks for making me think and mull over my response. God’s working on me here!

    Blessings,
    Mel
    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • Anonymous

    Great reminder. Perfect timing as I deal with an offense from this week. Thanks for making me think and mull over my response. God’s working on me here!

    Blessings,
    Mel
    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Love this one. So practical and so needed. Make me think of horses, the kind that pull carriages. They wear blinders so that they can only see what is ahead of them versus the distractions on the side. I think we, as leaders and those choosing to make a difference, need to have blinders like that as well. Critics are distraction that try to stop us from getting where God wants us to go.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      The example of a horse with blinders is brilliant. I am totally stealing that!

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    Love this one. So practical and so needed. Make me think of horses, the kind that pull carriages. They wear blinders so that they can only see what is ahead of them versus the distractions on the side. I think we, as leaders and those choosing to make a difference, need to have blinders like that as well. Critics are distraction that try to stop us from getting where God wants us to go.

  • http://www.rowentree.com April Rowen

    Thank you for this post. I really appreciate the two key verses you mentioned (Matthew 18:7 and Proverbs 19:11). Thanks for the reminder that offense is inevitable – and a choice. =)

  • http://www.rowentree.com April Rowen

    Thank you for this post. I really appreciate the two key verses you mentioned (Matthew 18:7 and Proverbs 19:11). Thanks for the reminder that offense is inevitable – and a choice. =)

  • http://jennyrain.com JennyRain

    Realizing most of the time, people don’t mean to offend… and when they do, its often because we’ve hit a nerve in their life – maybe some pain or something that is unresolved. Compassion goes farther than offense anyday.

    And, it is just too darn exhausting to be offended all the time! :)

  • http://jennyrain.com JennyRain

    Realizing most of the time, people don’t mean to offend… and when they do, its often because we’ve hit a nerve in their life – maybe some pain or something that is unresolved. Compassion goes farther than offense anyday.

    And, it is just too darn exhausting to be offended all the time! :)

  • http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com Nikole Hahn

    I’m working on that.

    God has been teaching me about what your blog discussed today. It’s a difficult lesson because you want to defend, but if you defend yourself to every critique you’ll spend the better part of the day awash in guilt and trying to please people.

    It’s not that I want them to like me, but peace sounds awfully nice. But in the past three years I’ve been experiencing criticism in ways that have really tested me and I’m learning to take the higher road. It’s not easy.

  • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

    I was once told by leadership above me that it is not as much about what happens to you as it is about how you respond. Mistakes happen. People offend you. You may have even offended others. If you stay in that mode, you will never move forward. People will see you as offendable. You will continue to offend others. It will hold you back from being all that you can be. Forgive the offense, move on, learn from it, grow your character – and the benefit will be yours to come.

  • http://christopherscottblog.typepad.com/blog/ Christopher Scott

    Michael,
    This post really resonates with me. As a leader of volunteers, many a time have I been criticized. The thing that makes it hard for me, is that I do what I do because I’m passionate about it. I work hard to serve others from my heart, and when someone criticizes me, it stings a lot.

    However,
    I try to realize there about about 50 good comments I receive for every critical statement flung my way.

    I’ve realized people criticize me for two reasons:
    1) They are jealous of my success, or
    2) They are hurting deep down, and they are portraying that hurt on me

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    You say you didn’t respond “in kind” to having been called a hypocrite—I suppose this means that you didn’t slap your accuser with a derogatory label in return—but did you respond at all in the sense of presenting a reasoned argument as to why, in your view, the accuser was mistaken in calling you a hypocrite?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      No, I did not. It’s not the first time he has attacked me. Some people only become more aggressive when you engage them. The best thing to do in this case is ignore the offense and move on. Thanks.

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        I couldn’t resist googling the matter. I learned that you’re not merely a hypocrite, but a “paranoid hypocrite,” a “lying hypocrite,” an “egomaniacal hypocrite who deserves to be stoned,” and a “pompous weasel” to boot. Pretty impressive.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Thanks, I worked hard to garner those accolades!

  • http://twitter.com/williemacster William McPherson

    I always try to remember how many people I have judged and offended; always seems to keep me sober minded.

  • http://twitter.com/AroDass Dass

    Dear Michael, Thanks for the wonderful. I am person who really get offended very quickly. I too lead a small youth group where sometimes my leadership were questioned and insulted. My response usually was to retaliate it with strong response. Often i will not be peace at my heart. This blog really helped me with to assess myself in the light of the Word of God. Hope God can work in me to be more like HIM…

  • http://twitter.com/MattBeard Matt Beard

    It always helps me to think of this verse:

    Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. -Luke 6:26

    Leading well means telling people what they don’t want to hear sometimes. If I’m not willing to tell people what they NEED to hear instead of what they WANT to hear then I won’t do a very good job of leading them. Inevitably, this leads to some backlash but it isn’t as bad when you expect a little backlash.

    Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/NewEnglandHiker Roy Wallen

    We can, as you note, learn from “offenses” — they are often at least partly based in truth. Turning the other cheek, considering the source, and avoiding compounding offenses are principles we can all employ.

  • Gordon

    Ah, Mr. Hyatt had to write a blog post that gets to the heart of the matter. A much needed reminder – thank you.

  • Gordon

    Ah, Mr. Hyatt had to write a blog post that gets to the heart of the matter. A much needed reminder – thank you.

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  • http://www.themotherlode.wordpress.com Theresa Lode

    I’m just sorry you have to deal with this sort of stuff. I’ve watched a good friend go through tremendous slander and false accusation and handle it all with grace. But I know the pain is real too.
    I try to remember stuff like this is an invitation into the fellowship of suffering with Jesus. And why is it that in our human nature, we can have 100 people give us kudos but what we’ll remember is the one shrill critic at the back of the room?

  • Donna G

    Wow. A prayer answered. The school Board I sit on is going through a very difficult situation right now. I have been praying for wisdom and guidance in how I should respond. Think I will read this six or eight times over the next day or so and see what changes in my point of view–and in my heart. Thanks for being a vessel.

  • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

    Wow. Great post and so timely. I was almost offended this week when I was criticized and decried as a “heretic” on another blog. I started to respond, and it pretty quickly unfolded into an endless argument. This resonates so strongly with me and has been a theme in our ministry for a number of years. Jesus is the rock of offense, and he wants to offend us until we are no longer offendable. We are constantly asking ourselves: “Are you unoffendable?”

    The goal in this thinking is to reach the point where you are no longer offendable, where you can receive the truth of any criticism and let the rest roll off your back without it making you anxious. It’s interesting to read the New Testament and see Jesus give a hard saying or teaching, followed up with the comment, “Does this offend you?” He need what he was doing – he was trying to deconstruct their religiosity and wean them from their people-pleasing tendencies to become world-changers.

    Great, great post, Michael.

  • Windwalker49

    Having been given the gift of forgiveness, what helps me to not be offended is to remember that the offender is sowing seeds and will reap what s/he sows. Then I can have compassion for them, as Jesus did when he said “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Just think: the offenders are really doing something terrible to themselves, not to me!

  • http://twitter.com/JeremyStatton Jeremy Statton

    I recently received a very kind, sincere, helpful letter of rebuke from a friend about my blog. I knew that there had to be some friends who had concerns, but after 8 weeks nobody had mentioned anything. My friend telling me his thoughts is much more helpful than people not telling me the truth. Leaders can keep this mind. The truth is more helpful for everybody than a lie.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      So true. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).

      • http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org Jeff Goins

        Wow. I was convinced that that was a typo (“wounds” instead of “words”), but it wasn’t. Fascinating proverb! I like the second part; it really completes the verse:
        “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
        But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

  • http://twitter.com/lovinglyyoursG Georgiana

    I try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Having a spirit of empathy, helps understand why a person might take offense at something. It could be stemming from their culture, background or belief system that they feel so strongly about. It’s important not to judge but to have an open discussion to learn from each other.

  • Daniel Winters

    My favorite line to myself and those I mentor is, “…water off a duck’s back”. I try hard not to let it stick with varying levels of success.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevinthompson Kevin Thompson

    The flesh in us all wants to get even. I fight this urge often. Great post, Michael. I try to learn from every experience, actually communicate with the offending person to try to better understand and move on.

  • Joni Hannigan

    Great post. I really like your final point about choice. We all have the choice of whether to point out the obvious, which is that sometimes critics cannot know all the facts behind a decision. And we need to recognize there is “h” or history behind the critic’s complaints. Scripture says to not cast our pearls before swine–a truth I’ve claim since I was young. I’ve also learned by observing many leaders that those who are quick to feel offense are often insecure and quick to criticize others themselves. Though it smarts to do so sometimes, mostly I choose to understand the criticism and move on, even asking for ways I might improve, if that’s appropriate. This generally comes, I admit, when I have time to reflect on the criticism for at least a few minutes :)

  • http://www.church-membership-software.net/ Trevor

    This is definitely something I face often. For me, I think the most productive defense is to become good friends with people before they offend you.

    It sounds a bit hard to estimate who could do that, but if we think about it, we can often guess. It could be someone with an abnormally large mouth that just hasn’t gotten it yet that they can hurt. Our bosses and leaders certainly will all offend us at all times, because the flip side to leaders knowing they’ll draw fire is that followers tend to feel baited into generating that fire (not that the leader deserves it, but the feeling can be there). And, of course, people we care about can and probably will offend because we hang out with them and when people are together they will eventually come into some level of conflict.

    So, knowing who those are, I try to generate a good relationship with them before they offend. That way, I know their heart and no matter how angry I get, I know their heart is to serve God and even if I disagree with their methods and anger starts to lead me into offense, I can always remind myself they’re just trying to serve God. I don’t have to agree with how they do it, because knowing our goals are the same makes it easier to handle.

    Plus, for me, if I know they are trying to serve God and I am trying to serve God, then I feel the door is never closed on discussion. When I get offended, that’s typically because I feel a door of communication has been slammed in my face. But, if that door is open, I don’t mind a healthy disagreement.

  • Thomas Stanley

    One thing I do to avoid being offended is to separate my role from my self. I know that I have to make decisions, and act out of my personality. Just how I am not offended when children don’t like me when I put them in the corner. I am merely playing a role and they are reacting to my role. Same goes with the different leadership roles you play. You have to make choices that others wont necessarily like. Know they are reacting to your role, not you.

    • Vishal Chugh

      Thank you!!!

  • Ashley Musick

    My mentor and boss gave the best sermon/talk on offenses and it changed my life. I can’t even begin to describe how “being un-offendable” is crucial to my growth, peace of mind, and keeping healthy relationships. Great blog on a great topic!

  • PoulAndreassen

    The uniqueness of your article is indeed something that is influential in nature , excellent article.

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  • Anonymous

    Bill Bernbach, one of advertising’s greatest creative directors, carried on a piece of paper in his breast pocket, which read: “Maybe he’s right.”

    Although I do not carry such a paper myself, I always try to keep that saying with me.

    Sometimes offense is actually your pride feeling hurt, for realizing on the possibility of being wrong, or someone else proves out to be smarter. Humbleness is a competitive advantage, it allows you to realize about opportunities for improvement in yourself.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a wonderful, inspiring perspective. Thanks for taking time to express it.

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  • John Tabita

    Michael,

    Discovering your post today couldn’t have been more timely. I recently got the opportunity to blog about business topics for a fairly popular website. I have no problem when people disagree with my opinion and offer a reasonable argument as to why. But what has astounded me are the personal attacks. (One person told me that I had no soul because I was advocating B2B cold-calling.)

    The last post I wrote was controversial, and I knew it would generate a lot of heated debate. But the level of personal attacks really did discourage me. I suppose I’m going to have to dig into the scriptures you quoted. Thanks again.

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  • http://gregoryherman.net/about/ Gregory R Herman

    Think about your sin against God. No matter what the other person has done to you, it is nothing compared to how you have grieved the Almighty. The only time this truth has failed to keep me out of trouble is when I fail to consider this truth.

    • Dodili V Anilo15

      This is one of the best threads I have ever read in my whole life! What MEAT! Thank you to all of you who wrote in! I have learned so much from reading all these comments! God bless all of you!

      • Vishal Chugh

        Same here , Each single comment is full of so much wisdom  . Thank you so much to all of you!!! This post (and comments ) made my day !! :-)

  • Vishal Chugh

    Such a wonderful , powerful and much needed post i have ever come across . Thanks a tonn Michael . New  year greetings to you :-)

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  • http://twitter.com/justpeachiemenu Just Peachie

    Thank you. Continually revisiting this very thought.