Eight Ways to Develop a Critical Eye
Today we wrap a short series called Critical Eyes vs. Critical Spirits. In the last post we discussed Seven Ways to Know if You Have a Critical Spirit, which was – just so you know – pretty self-convicting and the blogosphere equivalent of pounding myself in the head with a golf shoe. Today, I’m coming up for air and turning the conversation to the lighter, fluffier theme of developing a critical eye.
A critical eye is the beginning point of change. If you can’t define the problem, you can’t fix the problem. So how do you hone the ability to see what others may not? I think there are eight ways:
1. Begin with the win and why. If you’re examining any process within your organization, you have to have a clear vision on what you’re trying to accomplish and why you’re trying to accomplish it. Your win is your North Star, the main guiding principle that drives what you do. Whether it’s a family mission statement, the reason for your ministry’s existence, or the background behind your new budgeting process, condense your win to one sentence and you’ll gain the clarity you need to critique.
2. Become the expert in your field. Improvement is next to impossible if you don’t have goals, and it’s hard to have goals if you don’t educate yourself and identify what’s next in your journey. Malcolm Gladwell says that becoming great requires 10,000 hours of constant discipline. Now let’s not kid ourselves: few of us can devote 10k to one discipline, much less the multiple disciplines that require our attention. But the point is not the hours, the point is the focus. Whatever is your main point of leadership, study that issue, read widely about it, and become a student of it.
3. Define the baseline. If your team has no agreement or understanding on what you’re trying to accomplish, that’s when you’re in danger of drifting back into critical spirit territory. Don’t be afraid to talk with your kids about specific expectations or to call your team members up to certain levels of behavior and/or performance. Develop a playbook. Refine your training. Set clear guidelines or house rules. Doing those things doesn’t have to make you a micromanager. It can make you a leader whose followers understand where you’re taking them.
4. Train your senses. I would call this point “always be watching,” but my high school English teacher reads this blog and she already feels bad enough that she let me graduate. Become obsessive about watching and listening and sensing those things that don’t quite match up. Develop a strong filter for what doesn’t look right. After a short time of disciplined focus, you might be surprised (or disappointed) to realize that you can’t turn it off.
5. Point out the positives. We tend to associate the word critique with a negative. It ain’t necessarily so. A critic can make the best kind of coach, if they determine to balance areas of growth with areas of success. In my own ministry, I have to keep this at front of mind. My natural inclination is to let #4 above drive the opposite of #5. In other words, my senses see the bad stuff but assume the good. Don’t assume that your team or your spouse or your family knows what you’re celebrating; take the time to tell them.
6. Invite outside perspective. No matter how much we hone our skill, we will all still have blind spots. If you’re evaluating guest services, invite a friend to attend church with you. If you think you’re rocking the parenting game, invite someone from the older generation to look over your shoulder. They can often take five minutes and get us unstuck from five months of a rut. Outsiders can help our critical eyes see what we may be missing and encourage us to overlook what we may be seeing.
7. Maintain a humble posture. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m often wrong (don’t tell my wife, she hasn’t figured it out yet). And if you’re honest, you’ve probably been wrong once, too. Your team’s trust will increase a hundred-fold if you are able to say things like I was wrong, I’m not sure, I don’t know, and What do you think? You don’t have all the answers, so bring your stakeholders around you to share the journey and help you find them.
8. Bring it all back to vision. If you focus only on the rules, you’ll eventually sacrifice the relationship. In the last post I said that we should point people to the horizon, rather than the potholes we encounter on the way there. Vision is what moves your critique from a negative to a positive. Vision is what keeps your culture from leaking. Vision is encouraging and life-giving. Err on the side of vision, and your need for criticism will shrink.
Whether you’re a parent, a pastor, a politician, or a pastry chef, there are people who are influenced by your example and who follow your lead. Leading simply means that you are a few steps ahead of those who follow you. I believe that maintaining a healthy system of observation, feedback, and correction is a discipline that honors God’s work in you and helps develop his work in others. Give your followers the gift of a critical eye, a humble spirit, and a well-crafted vision.
Lead on, my friends.
View all the posts in this series:
- Critical Eye vs. Critical Spirit
- Seven Ways to Know if You Have a Critical Spirit
- Eight Ways to Develop a Critical Eye