We all know President Donald J Trump doesn’t cope with criticism very well.

After last weekend’s final episode of Saturday Night Live for 2018, featuring Alec Baldwin reprising his satirical impression of Trump, along with Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller, Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh, the president couldn’t take it any longer.

He tweeted:

Did you get that?  The courts should test whether shows like Saturday Night Live are actually legal!!

In other words, the President of the United States of America is questioning whether free speech should extend to criticism of the President of the United States of America. Which kind of makes him sound like the President of Guatemala, 1982, instead of the Leader of the Free World.

Of course, this just opened him up to thousands of tweets counter-attacking him for being so sensitive.

One such tweet read,

“Remember when all those other presidents complained about their little feelsies getting hurtsies by Saturday Night Live? No.  Because none of them were thin skinned, little babies.”

I don’t want to lampoon Donald Trump here. But I do want us to think about “thin skinned little babies”, especially when they’re in leadership. In the literature they’re called “overreactive leaders.”

Professor Samuel Bacharach from Cornell University defines them this way:

“Overreactive leaders take every piece of information, every strand of data, and take action based on that information. They freak out over every little thing, and kill the momentum of their team. Overreactive leaders seem to be unable to prioritize or filter the fundamentally important information they receive from the anecdotal, anomalous data that floats around the organization. Think of someone who says in a meeting, ‘We’ve been getting a lot of complaints (read: two) about our new software upgrade.’ And on the strength of that weak data point, the overreactive leader calls the lead programmer, and demands that a new version be created immediately.”

That would be like a president watching a satirical skit on Saturday Night Live and demanding it be tested in court.

But it would also be like a lot of church leaders who overreact to every news story that appears critical of Christianity or religion in general. Whether it’s same-sex wedding cakes, or school programs aimed at normalizing gender dysphoria, or freedom of religion legislation, some leaders want to sound the warning that the sky is falling and all hell is about to break loose.

There seems to be a prevailing level of touchiness among some church leaders. They see all criticism as a signal of some deeper, growing persecution.

 

Samuel Bacharach says good leaders are able to accommodate surprises and address unforeseen challenges, but they do so in a non-anxious fashion: 

“The competent leader makes adjustments as an important but non-frantic pivot. The operative keyword is ‘non-frantic.’ The moment others feel that you are frantic and caught up in your own drama, like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling, they will see you as overreacting, and take very little of what you say seriously.”

Don’t be like Donald Trump wanting to refer a comedy show to the Supreme Court. Accept criticism. Rise above it. Learn from it. Don’t overreact. Be dignified.

People don’t think clearly or sensibly when they’re afraid, and leaders who foster anxiety and uncertainty have great difficulty prosecuting their vision for the future.

 

In fact, overreactive leadership isn’t leadership at all because it doesn’t project a confident sense of what the future could look like. It has us running around like Chicken Little.

In the late 1960s, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a precursor to Saturday Night Live. It regularly took satirical jabs at the presidency of Lyndon B Johnson. The anti-war, anti-establishment attitude of show had it constantly teetering on the brink of cancellation throughout its entire run. In fact, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour barely outlasted Johnson’s administration, being cancelled by CBS a few months into the Nixon presidency when the writers refused to ease off with the political satire.

On their final show, Dick Smothers read a letter they had received from former President Johnson, in which he wrote:

“It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

 

I’m not expecting president Trump to adopt this kind of attitude any time soon. But I can live in hope that church leaders could become less overreactive, more dignified, more able to accept the kernel of truth in every criticism, more able to laugh at themselves, and more willing to accept that price of leadership that LBJ was talking about.

 

 

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