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How to Endure a Critical, Non-supportive Leader

I was talking to a younger leader recently. He is feeling underappreciated. 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. So, 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 is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.