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Real Leaders Don’t Complain

I can’t tell you how many times I am in a coaching session with someone, and I end up spending most of the time just listening to them complain. After a while, I have to stop everything and tell them this: The true leader in any organization is the person who doesn’t complain.

No truer words were ever spoken. You may be the appointed leader, the elected leader, or even the founder of an organization, but if you are a complainer, you will never be seen by the employees and other stakeholders as the real leader of the organization. Somewhere in the organization is the person who never complains. He or she will be viewed as the true leader of the organization. The problem is, as the CEO, that person SHOULD be you!

Suck It Up

People don’t like whiners and complainers. I’m sure you don’t either. So, if you are constantly whining or complaining about things, you can imagine how others feel about you. Samuel Johnson, the noted British author, once said: “The usual fortune of complaint is to excite contempt more than pity.” Who the heck wants to be looked at with contempt?

Think about all the famous leaders who are held up to us as examples, whether they are business leaders, military leaders, or political leaders. How many of them complained? How many of them were constantly whining about things? None, that I can recall. Now think about your own organization. Who are the people who never complain or never whine about things? Aren’t those the people you respect the most? They are the natural leaders within your organization.

Time Is Precious: Don’t Waste It Complaining

Complaining is an admission of failure. It is a negative energy that disrupts the smooth operation of the organization. It reflects on you and provides you with an image to others of a miserable, unhappy, and uninspiring person. And it wastes a lot of time…People who are busy complaining aren’t busy doing what they should be doing in their jobs. The late Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, once said: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

If you can honestly reflect on yourself, and see that you are a complainer, then you need to shift your attitude and become a doer instead. This is particularly true if you need to be a leader and inspire others. Moreover, look around your organization for the people who never complain. They are the aspiring leaders within your company, and you should keep your eye on them. They will be the people who will take your organization to the next level.

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Do Your Employees Hate To Lose More Than Love To Win?


Have you ever had an employee lose a sale, or a customer, or a negotiation, and say, “Well, I gave it my best shot.”? Although he would have enjoyed winning, he was more than willing to accept his loss because giving it his best effort was enough for him. Trust me, this guy is a loser. Everyone enjoys winning. I have never met a person who didn’t like to win, but some people are content to lose if they know they gave it their best shot. True winners – those that are highly competitive – won’t simply settle for winning. They can’t stand losing, and they will do anything rather than suffer a defeat. These highly competitive types tend to work harder, make greater sacrifices, put forth extra effort, and perform heroic actions. They are like athletes at the top of their game.

What Really Drives Athletes

When top athletes in their professions are surveyed, we find that winning isn’t what fuels their success, but instead, hating to lose is what drives them to compete at extraordinary levels. It’s no different in the corporate world. We need to staff our companies with employees who think and act like these top athletes. A culture of winning is fine, but just imagine what your company would be like if everyone there hated to lose. So you have to go beyond having a winning culture…you have to create a culture of people who hate to lose, and who would do anything rather than experience defeat. These are the people that will propel your organization to its next level of performance. When I coach CEOs about this, I make it a point to say that their company motto ought to be: “We Hate to Lose.” What else do you need to say? That’s pretty much it… Then you have to slowly weed out the people who are content to come in second, and bring in people who hate not being number one – in anything they do! These “hate to lose” people actually feel physical pain when they lose.

Creating A “Hate To Lose” Culture

A winning culture is fine for some companies, but a “hate to lose” culture will kick the crap out of that company every time. Take a good, hard mental look at your key employees, and you will know who is OK with losing, and who hates to lose. Over time, you need to build your organization around the “hate to lose” people, and get rid of the people who are OK with losing. Your culture will take a dramatic turn that will pay dividends going forward. To reinforce my point, take a look at these memorable quotes from some great athletes: – “I hate to lose more than I love to win.” (Jimmy Connors) – “I’m a competitive person. I hate to lose and competition is everything. When you lose you’re easily forgotten.” (Michael Jordan) – “Above anything else, I hate to lose.” (Jackie Robinson) – “If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.” (Derek Jeter) – “Boy, do I hate to lose.” (Peyton Manning)

How do you feel about losing? Are you a “hate to lose” CEO? And what about your company’s culture? How intensely do they hate to lose?

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Are You Challenging Your Management Team?

Most of us accept the concept that we improve our performance by being challenged. When people around us challenge us, most of us will rise to the challenge. We perform better, strive harder, and achieve greater things. But did you know that we also improve and become better when we challenge others?

Here is a true story that demonstrates this notion:

Give It Everything You’ve Got

Back in the late 1960’s, John Wooden, one of the all-time greatest college basketball coaches, was playing a center named Bill Walton on his team at UCLA. Walton practiced with the other team members, but there was no one on the team over 6’7’’ to really challenge him and help him improve his skills. Out of the blue, a junior college basketball coach phoned Wooden, and said he had a 6’11” player who could give Walton the opponent he needed to practice against. Wooden gave the junior college player, Swen Nater, a scholarship to UCLA just to practice against Walton. Coach Wooden told Nater that he would likely never play in a game; his role was just to play against Walton in practice, much like a sparring partner. “He told me to get good enough to challenge Walton,” said Nater. Swen did what he was told, and gave it his all, challenging Walton as hard as he could. “I really understood the concept of team basketball, not just in the games, but in the roles you play in practice,” said Nater. “No one outworked me, not even Bill. I had fun challenging Bill. I gave him everything he could handle. That was an investment on my part and it paid off.”

The Pay-Off

With Swen challenging Walton as hard as he could, playing with all of his effort, Walton became a great basketball player, one of the greatest centers to ever play the sport. He would credit a lot of his skill to the level of opposition that Swen gave him. “Bill always said that I was the best center he played against…” said Nater. The interesting part of the story is that as Swen became better at challenging Walton, he developed into a great basketball player himself. Although he never started a game at UCLA, and averaged only about 2 ½ minutes per game when he did play, Nater was a first round NBA draft pick (16th overall), and played for 11 years, setting a number of records. To this day, Nater credits his success to the time he spent challenging Bill Walton.

You see, being challenged helps us get better, but we also get better when we challenge others.

Are you challenging your management team? If you do, not only will they get better, but your game will improve as well.

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Do You Know How Your Employees See You?

Most CEOs think of themselves as “regular” people. Nothing special about them. So they govern their actions as if they were the same as everyone else. Well, there is a difference between you and the people that work for you…at least in their minds.

Perceptions are quite real to the people who see you in action. Their image of you is probably not what your image of yourself is, so you need to be aware of that. If you don’t understand this difference in perception, you cannot be a great CEO.

Your Perspective vs. Their Perspective

You see yourself as a typical business person, not much different than anyone else. You hang out with people like yourself, so everything seems quite “normal” to you. But look at it from the perspective of the people who work for you. They see a person who is in charge; someone who founded and built a company (or was brought in to run it). You make more money than they do. You probably drive a really nice car and wear an expensive watch. You are going to business lunches and traveling all over the USA or internationally for meetings. You are busy negotiating deals, giving speeches, attending important meetings offsite, and handing out awards and bonuses. Your signature is on their paychecks.

If you don’t think that presents a certain image to your employees, then you are blind. They have an image of a person who has put his/her stamp on the company, and of someone who is important, in charge, and successful. Most of them know they could never start a company and grow it, or do many of the things that you do so well. Believe it or not, they look up to you. They watch everything that you do, and you are setting the example for them. Don’t allow yourself to fall into complacency, believing that they see you like “one of them.” Because they don’t, no matter how much they say they do, or how much you try to be one of them.

Your influence on them is far beyond what you think it is. They will emulate you. They will worry if you seem distant or troubled. The part you play as CEO is crucial to their success. They need to know you are involved, interested, and thoughtful. Culture starts at the top, so that means that you, as the very top person in the organization, set the tone for everyone else. Don’t underestimate the impact your image has on your staff. Always be cognizant of the way they see you and act accordingly.

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Why Do You Have To Be The Smartest Guy In The Room?

One of the curses of being a CEO is that we think we know more than everyone else. Although we deny this over and over again, and we make bold statements such as “I always hire people smarter than me,” or “I surround myself with people who know more than I do,” the reality is that we don’t act that way. I have worked with dozens of CEOs who claimed they deferred to their better educated, more informed staff, yet demonstrated a disregard for their staff’s ideas by always trying to add value.

How Does One “Add Value”?

Adding value is when we take a person’s idea and try to make it better by adding our own contribution to it. We simply can’t resist making their idea even better!

Here is how it works: Your VP of marketing comes into your office with a recommendation to increase the advertising budget to include some new website ads. You look her right in the eye and say “That’s a great idea…but you know what would make it even better? Let’s do such and such….”

Basically, you just told her that her idea was crap, and that you have a better idea, or at least that’s how she sees it. How do you think she feels about herself, about the job she’s doing, and about how you see her? If you want people to stop bringing you good ideas, then crush their spirit by telling them how to make them better.

Taking A Step Back

It’s funny, but we just seem compelled to do this. We have to take every idea, concept, and recommendation, and improve upon it. Yet we brag about how we hire such smart people. If they’re so smart, why do we keep “helping” them with our input?

As a CEO, there are times when you have to keep your mouth shut, even when you really believe an idea can be improved upon. Let the person enjoy their moment. Allow them the opportunity to present something and have it stand on its own. There is plenty of time later to “tweak” it. And if you are really good at what you do, you can find ways to suggest improvements and have your staff think it was their idea. Here are a few recommendations on how to improve an idea without you directly adding your own value to it:

  • You can hold a meeting with several others and ask the group to discuss and enhance the idea.
  • You can have committees or working groups that review ideas and discuss how to implement them.
  • You can even ask the person who came up with the idea to go back and come up with two or three ways to improve it (there is always something else that can be thought of, even by the original author or inventor).

The lesson here is that your desire to add value to another person’s idea might make you feel good, but it makes the other person feel crushed. Hold back, bite your tongue, and let your people have their moment to bask in the sun. There are other opportunities to improve the idea without your “contribution.”