Leaning In With Friends When Their Judgment and Behavior is Poor

Reputation Specialist Essays
3 min readApr 4, 2021


Ryan Holiday, author, columnist, thinker and podcaster

“Some people lean in when their friends take heat, some people lean away.

“I decided I wanted to be a lean-in type, even if I didn’t always agree, even if it was their fault.”

Ryan Holiday

There is so much being communicated here and it’s important to recognize what is and isn’t being said and what else can be learned and valued.

Often, people step away from their friends when those friends are under attack because they are afraid of being too closely associate with them and getting their reputations (and maybe, well-being) “burned.” That’s natural though, for us to want to protect ourselves. Yet it can leave our friends feeling abandoned and questioning the legitimacy or strength of the friendship.

Ryan Holiday wants to choose instead to lean in and be there for support. He wants to be there, even if what you, his friend, did was your “fault” and you were not in the “right.” That’s admirable, and a more reliable friendship, no?

This doesn’t mean in the slightest, I don’t think, that Holiday means he will, under all circumstances and forever, stay committed to a friend if that person is not humble in face of the criticism they are receiving. I don’t believe Holiday is saying he will continue to lean in for long if a friend is rejecting truth and an urgent desire to learn, or is revealing rotted character and not seeking to improve and “do the right thing.”

From reading Holiday’s writing semi-regularly, I know that’s not what he’s communicating.

As humans, we need and crave support, especially when we’re taking “heat.” It’s an uncomfortable and often, emotionally, psychologically and yes, physically, a painful experience.

It’s therefore comforting and helpful to have our friends lean in instead of leaning away or fully rejecting and abandoning us.

Yet we have to do our part too, to show we respect our friends and deeply value their sacrifice (?), commitment (!), steadiness and love to stick with us and be there for encouragement and support.

We have to show highly admirable character in response to the negativity being aimed at and raining down on us. We must do what is expected and “right,” by taking corrective measures in sincere, humble words and honorable, compassionate deeds.

We can’t deny, hide, aggress and otherwise conduct ourselves in any other foolhardy, arrogant, selfish, reckless behavior.

How we choose to initially react to “heat” and then thoughtfully respond can largely determine how often and to what degree our friends will lean in, even when they disagree with us and we’ve either contributed to our own misery or been, at fault.

Michael Toebe is a founder and specialist who helps individuals and organizations with further building, protecting, restoring or reconstructing reputation quality. He helps at Reputation-Quality.com, Reputation-Interviews.com and QSR-Guide.com. He is also the author of “Your Reputation Signature: What It Is, Why It Matters and How to Protect, Restore and Reconstruct It,” and “On Apology, What We Can Learn and Do Better.”

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Reputation Specialist Essays

Michael Toebe is the founder and specialist at Reputation Quality, a consultancy, advisory, coaching and communications services practice.