I was thinking about great leaders – you know – the ones that inspire trust and confidence. One quality I readily recognized was their ability to manage their emotions. In times of stress they are able to express feelings like sadness, disappointment or anger with dignity and restraint. You rarely hear a great leader whining, because they know they will lose respect from those they lead.
What is so bad about whining? It is a not-so-subtle way of blaming. It is a form of giving up power and shunning responsibility. Those are not qualities that we seek in a leader. We want our leaders to show strength in the face of adversity. We want them to be able to bear the weight of challenges and crises.
On the receiving end, I have observed that leaders are drained by whiners. Show me a leader with a heart, surrounded by a bunch of complainers, and I will show you a tired and frustrated man or woman. The great leaders are not crushed by them, but are burdened with the extra, and often unnecessary load.
I am sure that all you moms and dads out there would agree. Whining kids (especially teens) can make the day seem longer than it should be. And ask a husband or wife with a perennially whining spouse if they look forward to going home after a long work day.
You don’t have to be the leader of a country or large corporation to qualify as a leader. Any collection of people will have a leader, if only informally. Every family has a leader. For 27 years my partners and I led a small business and it was a challenge to keep our complaints among the three of us and not share them with our employees. I acknowledge that we failed many times, and then had to deal with the fallout. I know we lost respect.
If you are a leader what can you do?
First and foremost a leader must have a safe place to process their feelings. They must be able to release the negative energy that builds up around responsibility.
Secondly a leader must be intentional about communication. He or she must have a good “filter” and rehearse important messages.
Thirdly, a good leader must develop a tough skin and manage what may feel like personal attacks. Often the opposition is to the situation rather than the leader herself. But that is not always the case. Sometimes it really is a direct hit.
Lastly, a leader must expect that whiners are part of the package. Choosing or accepting a leadership position means that when things get tough or go wrong the leader will become a target. They must demonstrate care for those who are challenging them. In short, they must be the calmest and most mature person in the room.