Dealing With Poor Performance: Lessons From Simon Cowell and Jesus Christ

by Joe Plemon on December 3, 2010

I once had a basketball coach who was a nice guy. He cheered for me when I did well and he cheered for me when I didn’t do well. In fact, he was so nice that he seldom pointed out my mistakes.

I also played baseball for a coach who wasn’t nice. His face would match his red hair when I made a base running blunder or threw to the wrong base or failed to back up a play. “What were you thinking?” he would implore – his nose about six inches from mine – before seizing that moment to explain exactly what I had done to invoke his anger.

Which of these two do you think was a better coach? The one, of course, who made me a better player…the baseball coach.

Whatever happened to truth?

We live in an era of molly coddling, where “nice” teachers and “nice” administrators will allow a failing student to graduate from high school without attending class or implement no-fail” policies.  Because of this wide spread paranoia of stepping on someone’s self esteem,  I find Simon Cowell’s biting critiques refreshing. Yes, American Idol’s Cowell can be abrasive: he once told contestant Chris Sligh, “I think you murdered the arrangement. . . . you turned a beautiful song into a complete and utter drone.” But just as failing students need to know that they have failed, tone deaf singers need to know they can’t sing. Artificial “atta-boys” which mask truth are a huge disservice to either. I think we can learn much from Simon Cowell.

I also assert that Cowell is much more like Jesus Christ than you might expect.

How did Jesus deal with poor performance?

  • When money changers set up shop in the temple to profit from out of towners, Jesus knocked over their tables and called them thieves. Mat 21:12–13
  • Jesus, who had no tolerance for hypocrisy, confronted the religious leaders with these words, “… For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28. Suffice it to say that Jesus was not concerned about self esteem issues.
  • When religious leaders challenged Jesus’ authority, he told them that prostitutes would enter heaven before they would. Matthew 21:31.

You get the idea. If you think of Jesus as a “nice” man who would never hurt anyone’s feelings, you have a distorted image of him.

Christ and Cowell deal with poor performance in similar ways

  • Both will tell you the truth, even if it hurts.
  • Neither is competing in a popularity contest; being “liked” is not a consideration to Cowell or Jesus.
  • Both are experts in their fields…Cowell knows musical talent. Jesus, of course, knows human nature.
  • They will both speak their minds.

OK Joe”, you are thinking, “So what if Jesus and Simon Cowell have some similarities? What does this mean to me?”

Great question. It means that we need to grow backbones and learn to “speak the truth in love” Ephesians 4:15.  I am not advocating  meanness or maliciousness, but a deep conviction that the best way to help others is to be honest with them. If you are a parent, a church leader, a school teacher, a boss or simply a friend, I challenge you to speak truth instead of camouflaging it…in love.

It might be not be easy, but you will be more like Christ. And maybe a bit like Simon Cowell.

Readers:  I covet your thoughts.  Have I gone too far by comparing Christ and Cowell?  How have others in your life helped you by telling you what you needed to hear instead of what you wanted to hear?  When has “truth telling” crossed the line into meanness?  How would you describe your best teachers, coaches and mentors in terms of telling you truth even it it hurt?


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

retireby40 December 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Good post Joe. It seems every generation is having it easier and easier. No fail policy is ridiculous, how is a kid going to learn if he keeps failing and then getting passed along?


joeplemon December 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Retire by 40,
How true. Failure won’t ruin self esteem; it will be a motivator to change what is wrong. However, never facing reality (no fail policy) is a formula for mediocrity.


Tim @ Faith and Finance December 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

Catchy title! It begged to be read 🙂

There’s a time to be a softy and a time to be blunt. For me, I’ve worked for employers who were pretty darn blunt and I gained a strong work ethic from them. The problem with being the good guy all the time is that you might foster an attitude among your students or employees that says ‘go ahead, walk all over me’ or ‘your best isn’t needed here, just try to look like you’re working hard.’

I don’t think you’re out of place to bring up the blunt side of Jesus as he dealt with poor performance. As long as we are acting out of love and humility, being direct can be just what the doctor ordered.


Stephenson December 8, 2010 at 9:06 am

I always wonder why people get mad at Simon for telling them the truth, maybe it’s the way that Simon does it, that turns people off, but that is the real world!! I love your take on this. 🙂


loswl December 8, 2010 at 9:22 am

I learnt more from people who were blunt with me than, those who wanted to tell me the truth and sugar coated it. This is a great reflection, thanks 🙂


joeplemon December 8, 2010 at 11:13 am

Glad the title grabbed your attention. 🙂
I too have learned the most from my bosses who held high standards and followed through to ensure they were met. Some were not very likable, but that is really irrelevant.

@Stephenson and loswl,
Yes, the truth can sometimes hurt, but it wouldn’t be truth if it was sugarcoated.


Crystal December 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Good post. I think people are craving truth and direction and boundaries. People want substance. Its not always comfortable and not everyone wants to hear it, but we’ll never grow spiritually, personally, or professionally without someone to hold us accountable with honesty and love.

I would just add, though, that when Jesus got tough and blunt it was always with leaders, people who should have known better, people in a position to teach others–people held to a higher standard.

We need to be discerning in how we confront who and with what.


joeplemon December 10, 2010 at 10:32 am

Great point – and one I hadn’t considered – that Jesus always got blunt with those who were in a position to know better. I will need to let that settle in a bit, but my first reaction is that you are right. One thing for sure is that we do need to be discerning with who and how we confront others.

Galatians 6:1-2 give some good guidelines: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

Again, thanks for the insightful comment.


Weekend Fisher December 19, 2010 at 1:29 am

Jesus was tender with the broken-hearted, the people who already knew they had it wrong. It was the people who thought they were so great but their “greatness” was backwards, those were the ones he let have it with both barrels.

The point you made about being plain in criticism, that definitely needed to be said. Does something also need to be said about time and place? Consider how Jesus spoke to Simon the Pharisee … and contrast it to how he spoke to the woman weeping at his feet.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF


joeplemon December 19, 2010 at 8:08 am

Yes, something could be said about time and place, but I was only trying to make one point in this post: that there are times when speaking the truth in love is needed, even if it requires some blunt confrontations.

I hope this post doesn’t give readers the idea that Jesus was never tender with those who were hurting and broken. Even Simon Cowell is tender at times.


Josh December 20, 2010 at 10:40 am

nice read!


joeplemon December 20, 2010 at 11:30 am

Glad you liked it.


Ian Webster January 8, 2011 at 6:02 am

If I may be so bold. What you write is true. But it is (forgive me) a dangerous truth. My experience is that Christians love to hear it because it makes us feel strong in a world in which we feel lost and insignificant. It’s not that I think you are wrong at all. There are many times that a strong and unequivocal message is right and good and proper. But there are so many more opportunities to demonstrate to a violent and unloving world what grace looks like. I would rather practise the habit of love than the perfect the habit of cutting remarks and the quick put down, which I find so much easier! I’ll miss many opportunities, but I’d rather miss out on expressing the anger of God and take every opportunity to demonstrate the grace of God.

I’m with Crystal here. (It was she who pointed me to your post.) The context of Jesus’ anger is important. The way Jesus interacted with his disciples and those he reached out to was very different from the way he responded to the hypocritical, self-righteous religious leaders of the day, who put stumbling blocks between the people and their God. The point (I think) about the money changers is that Jesus wasn’t trying to change their lives or their way of behaving; he was making space for people to worship; and the money changers and all they stood for insisted on blocking the way. But your response to Crystal and others suggest we agree more than disagree.
Happy blogging…


joeplemon January 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Thank you for taking the time to express this thoughtful comment.

Yes, we agree much more than we disagree. I certainly agree that we should demonstrate grace and love to a world who sees way too little of either. Yet I don’t necessarily categorize a strongly worded message as being void of love or grace. While I don’t want to embolden believers to be judgmental loudmouths, I do want to encourage believers to grow a backbone when they need to speak up.

Because watering down truth is all too common in this age of tolerance, speaking the truth in love can be a refreshing demonstration of grace. This is what I would appreciate (when I am straying) from my brothers and sisters in Christ… not delivered like a sledge hammer of course, but still being being broached. You know: that iron sharpens iron thing.


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