Leaders Don’t Complain

James Walpole/ January 4, 2018

How do we feel when someone complains to us about something? Inspired, motivated, trusting, admiring?

Probably not. Most people are less likely to follow our lead after we complain to them.

Those of us who have some kind of leadership position find ourselves with more “legitimate” reasons to complain than anyone. We see more of the things that are broken, we deal with more difficult people, and we carry more of the stress of seeing something through to success.

But when we complain about a problem, we (at least for the moment, and at least in the eyes of onlookers) are surrendering our own power to fix that problem. A complaint is a desperate, frustrated attempt to get some help, somehow. It’s not a good look for anyone, “leader” or not.

Complaints are far from inspiring for the people around us. And they generally doesn’t yield the positive results we expect. But there’s a deeper problem if we take complaints one step further, to blame.

When we vocally complain to someone following us about a problem and we expect them to fix it, we aren’t just surrendering our responsibility as leaders. For better or worse (and whether or not we have a “right to complain”), we’re surrendering our leadership to them when we complain to them. 

Every complaint is one step toward complete abdication of personal responsibility, and personal responsibility is the only reason we’re leading in the first place.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t delegate work and responsibility to other people. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t do it by means of complaint.

If we have leadership roles in something, we’re probably going somewhere or doing something with a group of people. Maybe it’s building a company. Maybe it’s developing a spiritual community. Maybe it’s starting a football league. In any case, the problem belongs to all of us. The key is to realize this – that we don’t have to own the problem alone, and that we also can’t put it on the back of someone else alone.

There are some easy things we can do to share responsibility without losing it.

We can be proactive in providing constructive feedback to the people following us. We can provide clear specifications, directions, ideas, inspiration, prodding, suggestions. We can give people what they need to take responsibility for the problems we all share.

We just have to give up complaints. They’re not for us anymore.

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash


James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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