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The 2 Types of People to Avoid

August 15, 2017

“Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” – John Gardner

In this quote, John Gardner uses simple and precise words to explain the two kinds of people we most often encounter in our personal and professional lives: the unloving critic and the uncritical lover. The problem is that we need a different kind of person—one who cares enough about us to affirm us when we’re right and correct us when we’re wrong.

These people are rare and hard to find. But if you’re in a leadership role, you’ll find plenty of the other two.

1. The Unloving Critic

If you’re developing something new, you will always find people quick to criticize, critique, and condemn. There will be no shortage of people who think your idea is dumb and strategy is stupid. These people don’t care for you or the well-being of your organization. In fact, they seem to be more concerned about being right than being constructive. As a business, we have a goal to inspire people today to impact tomorrow. It’s amazing how quickly people outside of our organization want to offer their opinion by letting us know that “real businesses” won’t care about our mission, vision, and strategies. They seem more eager to discourage than to offer helpful feedback.

2. The Uncritical Lover

On the other hand, there are plenty of people that just want to be part of the action and will tell you exactly what you want to hear. We all like being encouraged, so it’s tempting to surround ourselves with an echo chamber of people who tell us how great we are.

That presentation was spot on.

Your writing is perfect.

You are such a great leader.

Wow, that’s such an incredible idea.

However, when we surround ourselves only with people that tell us what we want to hear, we likely won’t hear some of the things we need to hear to be successful. As a result, we risk confidently strutting our way into failure.

Neither the unloving critic nor the uncritical lover help us improve and become who we need to be. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV).

Try to find the rare third type of person, the loving critic. We each need people who care about us enough to encourage us when we’re right and correct us when we’re wrong. Surround yourself with these people, listen to them, and learn from what they have to say. You will treasure these few friends that both encourage and edify you.

But don’t just surround yourself with loving critics; be one. This is a struggle for me. Because I want people to feel good, I find it difficult to offer correction when it’s needed. However, I have to remember that if I truly care about people, I’ll tell them what they need to hear even when it’s not easy.

I think Peggy Noonan said it best: “Candor is a compliment; it implies equality. It’s how true friends talk.”

I want to be part of true friendships, ones that sharpen me and those closest to me.

Do you have these kinds of friendships?

If not, work to be a loving critic, and find other friends who are eager to help you become the person you were meant to be.


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