Here is one big downside to being a leader: You are going to draw fire. You will have critics, trolls, second-guessers, and people who insist on thinking the worst of you.
You may be falsely accused of wrong motives and much worse. It’s not any fun, but it goes with the territory. And your job in the midst of all this criticism is to keep your head clear and not respond in anger.
The Temptation to Lash Out
I have been called many horrible things publicly, including a hypocrite. I won’t lie. It stings, and I am sometimes tempted to respond in kind.
It would be so easy—and so disastrously wrong.
As a rule, I refuse to take the bait. But that sort of restraint is never easy. I often have to remind myself of three great truths I have learned, and am still learning, along the way about how to deal with offenses.
1. Offenses Are Inevitable
Life affords us opportunities to be offended every day. As you work to make a difference in your organization, people inside and out will find reasons to disagree—and worse. You will be the cause of offense from time to time whether you mean to or not.
That people—especially in the age of social media—are going to take offense doesn’t mean you or your team should be insensitive or shrug it off when it happens.
But it’s important to understand that people are going to take umbrage, in spite of your best efforts. It helps to prepare you to respond the right way.
2. Offenses Can Be Turned Around and Used for Good
If you are prepared when people both take and give offense, it can help to set your organization up for success.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a personal hero. One of the reasons the civil rights movement was so successful under his leadership were the offenses endured by those marching and protesting for equal dignity under the law.
It shocked and changed the mind of the nation. How?
3. Being Offended Is a Choice
As Dr. King promised in his “I Have a Dream” speech, marchers and boycotters would meet “police brutality” not with anger and violence but with “soul force.” And that’s what they did.
Did people outside the movement take offense at this? Absolutely. Did they respond with anger and even violence? Some did.
But others saw Dr. King suffering in jail for his beliefs, reasoning with his jailers, forcefully but respectfully insisting that the United States must recognize the equal dignity of all its people.
King’s choice showed them they had a choice too. It created the option to choose a different path.
Who Takes the High Road?
Granted, whatever struggle you face trying to change things in your organization, it doesn’t have nearly the weight as the civil rights movement.
I bring it up because Dr. King gives leaders a very good model of how best to prepare for, manage, and overcome offenses.
Like the greatest leaders I have known, he was not easily offended. He overlooked most of the petty slights and took the high road that leads to genuine change. Shouldn’t more of us be like that?