Why it’s lonely at the top

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt.”   That’s the stupidest phrase I’ve ever heard in my life. I’d like to know who the idiot was who came up with this statement.   Everyone knows that words hurt! Sometimes words hurt much deeper then bumps and bruises. The kind of damage that words can do usually lasts much longer and hurt much deeper than what sticks and stones can do to you.

The words that are going to hurt you most come from the people who you love the most. Think back to the words that have hurt you most… I can almost guarantee they came from somebody who you love deeply.  When you love someone, you open yourself to hurt from them. When you let your guard down with friends and family, their words can hurt you much more than a casual acquaintance.

There’s a great story in the Bible of how this principle applies to leadership.  In the book of Numbers God is leading his people out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert, and into the promised land.  This is perhaps the greatest migration of people in human history. It takes immense leadership ability to lead the number of people that Moses is leading in the book of Numbers. It takes a great skill to lead people through this barren desert with which Moses is leading. It takes even more talent to lead them to overcome their fears and receive God’s blessings when they enter the promised land.

The view is great

Moses has a tough job. Anyone in their right mind would be crazy to want the kind of leadership responsibilities that Moses carried on his shoulders. There are a lot of people that want a position of power at the office. They want the big corner office that goes along with the title of being the top person at the company. They want the big paycheck and the personal parking space. The perks package that goes along with being the #1 leader can be pretty enticing.   In other words, a lot of people want to make it to the top, because they believe the view up there is pretty great.

However, there’s also a lot of responsibility that goes along with being the head of the company or the chairman of the board.   When you’re in this position, there’s no one to complain to when things don’t go well. When you’re in the top position there’s no one to look to when you’re in over your head. Worse of all, when you’re in the top position there are a lot of people shooting at you!

The buzzards like to pick at you

People love to criticize.   Some people criticize so often that it’s almost their past time.  You all know the kind of people that I’m talking about. They complain about everything. Even when stuff gets better they complain that it didn’t get better fast enough. There’s some people that know you just can’t please.

These complaints don’t bother the average leader. You expect this kind of criticism from people like this. It just comes with the job. But what happens when someone who you love deeply criticizes you? What happens when someone who you trusted burns you?  That’s the situation that Moses experienced in Numbers 12:1.

How to handle criticism

Moses was doing his best to lead a lot of people. Moses was being led by God and leading God’s people well. Moses was also sharing some of his leadership authority with his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron.   Then Miriam and Aaron began to think they could do Moses’s job better than Moses.   At some point in this journey Miriam and Aaron began to criticize Moses for the way that he was leading. They began to call him out in front of Israel.   The Bible doesn’t give us great detail but I can only imagine how deeply this hurt Moses.

God was extremely offended by the way Miriam and Aaron were criticizing his servant Moses. He was so offended that he called them to account for what they just said about Moses.   Maybe it’s because Moses was so humble that God defended him. Maybe it’s because God realized that this could quickly become mutiny that he took immediate action. In whatever case, God would not allow this to stand (Numbers 12:5).  God ultimately punished Miriam and Aaron for this great offense to Moses (Number 12:8).

There is a lesson that I think we can learn from this encounter and Numbers 12.  The challenge that every leader has to contend with is how to listen to your critics without letting them determine how you live your life.   Often there’s a nugget of truth in what your critics are saying about you. It would be wise for any leader to examine if there’s some truth in the criticisms that are being leveled against you.  However, if you only listen to the critics it will incapacitate you. People love to complain, they will always find something for which to criticize you.   If you find yourself in a leadership position I have a challenge for you today… Listen to your critics but don’t live by them. Learn from your critics but don’t let them determine how you lead.   Take a lesson from Moses today, let God be your defense when you are criticized.

Further reading