Key Reasons Leaders are Criticized for Being Wrong

Key Reasons Leaders are Criticized for Being Wrong

Leaders are often the target of criticism.  They do their best to lead well and make decisions that will be best for everyone, yet they find themselves attacked for poor leadership.  Why is this universally true?  Because what is right for the leader is often perceived as wrong to others.  To state it differently, the instinct of the leader is often different from the instinct of the followers.

Leaders who are aware of their own instinct and why they make the decisions are much more prepared to lead effectively.  If a leader is self-aware of their default approach to problems, planning, communication style etc., they will be more effective in making adjustments to avoid pitfalls.  Leaders who are unaware of their own instinct find themselves surprised by criticism of the masses.  They often fail to predict the fallout that is inevitable.

We need to recognize that we are all leaders in our own sphere of influence.  Your sphere of influence may be large or small, but your awareness of your own instinct and how they are perceived by others has the same potential effect.  This is true whether you are a parent leading your children, or the president of the United States of America.

Our instinct as to how we lead is greatly influenced by our motivations.  Corestrengths teaches us that we have three main motivations: People, Performance, and Process.  Those who are motivated by People are primarily focused on how decisions impact the lives of other people.  Those who are primarily focused on Performance are focused on goals and accomplishing tasks.  Those who are motivated by Process are focused on doing things well and in the most efficient manner.  Those who have an equal amount of these three motivations focus on Perspective and want to see decisions from all angles.  We are all a combination of these motivations, but we tend to emphasize one over the others.  What is most important to us will dictate our behavior if we are not keenly aware of our default of putting more weight on one motivation than the others.

Let me get you an example.  As a person who is motivated by Performance, I am keenly focused on task accomplishment.  I hate to miss opportunities and despise not advancing a goal or being stuck.  Going backwards keeps me up at night!  All this comes out in my behavior.  It causes me to lead with a hurried pace.  I set many goals at the same time, and often set unrealistic expectations of my teammates.  I become impatient with those who slow the progress down.  I use persuasion to get people onboard and can be perceived as manipulative and argumentative when people object or organize in objection.  When I look back to my parenting style, this pattern shows up in the same way.  I even got a red card while at my son’s soccer game!  My instinct is related to my motivation.

The People motivation is so different in leadership instinct than the Performance motivation.  These people put a priority on how decisions impact people.  They don’t want other people to feel pain or loss.  They want to protect others.  When they make decisions, they feel a pull to slow things down if there is danger of people getting mad or hurt.  They a reluctant to make changes for this reason.  Change has danger built in.  If there is to be change, it will be slow and gradual, so everyone can stay on board.  Vision is often positioned about how we will have better community and relationships as this is the priority.  They often find it difficult to name the problem and deal with it directly because conflict is to be avoided as long as possible.

The Process motivated person defaults their focus on what is right and best.  They want to make sure that each decision is measured and researched thoroughly.  They don’t trust their own instinct, but want to confirm all decisions with facts.  They see emotions as the enemy of truth because they confuse facts.  They tend to communicate dispassionately and let the facts stand for themselves.  They can appear cold and stubborn for this reason when they make statements.  They are extremely realistic and even lean conservative when they cast vision about what can be done.

You can see that these three leadership styles are so different and will be received differently by those they are leading.  Our audience as leaders is not monolithic when it comes to motivations.  When people who are motivated differently from us receive our leadership, they often compare their own instincts with our own.  When they conflict, there is tension.  Tension is often expressed in criticism and even conflict.

This tension is often experienced in the leadership of husband and wife with their children.  The husband wants to deal directly with the child and make decisions that will address the problem.  But the wife who is People motivated wants to give the child more space in fear that they might hurt the relationship.  Sometimes the child or teen will figure out this tension between mom and dad and use it to manipulate their parents.  More than one marriage has ended because of this motivational instinct and how it plays out in leading their children.

Our motivations impact a vast array of instincts of leadership.  It impacts the pace of change, the style of leadership, how we pursue God, how we build trust, how we plan, how we motivate, how we cast vision, how we delegate responsibility, how we communicate, and even how we loose trust with others.  I can go on about the impact of motivation on leadership behavior.

We must come to understand our own leadership default decisions and how it relates to our motivations.  Discovering how our leadership is impacted is a first step.  If we don’t understand that our default instinct is connected to our motivations, we will not lead in an adoptive manner.  Leadership requires us to not only be aware of our own default (what we believe is the right things to do), but to understand how those we lead experience our decisions.  In other words, we need to be able to anticipate how our followers will respond to our leadership.  To do that we need to understand what is most important to them.  That will greatly influence how we lead them.

If you reflect on the leaders that have been most effective in your life, you will most likely discover that they led with great self-awareness.  They didn’t always go with their own default leadership style and instincts but made adjustments because their audience.  They were able to recognize what was most important to others and modify their behaviors to lead successfully.  When people are led by someone with this self-awareness, they feel like their leader understands them and has addressed what is most important to them.


Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.