Great Leaders Don’t Let Their Teams Complain

Jake Wilder
5 min readJun 22, 2022

The Next Time People Do It, Try This Instead

Photo: iStock

Here’s the problem: it feels really good to complain.

Someone does something that upsets us. We’re frustrated and we’re angry. Those emotions build up and they need somewhere to go. Complaining is an easy, low-risk way to vent those feelings. It lets us release all of that uncomfortable energy without having to actually deal with the issue in front of us. We’re upset and it makes us feel better.

When we complain to people who agree with us (and who doesn’t?), it validates our position. We get support and comfort from others. We can avoid the discomfort of introspection and satisfy ourselves with commiserating over the unfairness of it all.

Complaining feels good. It’s why we do it. That’s the problem.

The bigger problem, of course, is that it never really solves anything. Not only does it waste time, but it lets us avoid dealing with our problems. It chases short-term relief at the expense of a long-term solution.

Great leaders know this, and they stop the cycle before it begins.

Great Teams Don’t Waste Time Complaining

“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.” — Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

I once worked on a team full of complainers. Every staff meeting was a gripe fest about poor company decisions. If a customer didn’t like our work, we’d complain about their unreasonable expectations. If we didn’t agree with a new company strategy, we’d complain about the out-of-touch leadership. When there was an increase in work, we’d spend time venting about it instead of dealing with the new responsibilities.

Before long it spread beyond staff meetings to become a daily occurrence. Since our boss allowed people to complain in his presence, everyone felt they could complain outside of it as well. Instead of fixing problems and improving our situations, complaining became the default mode.

You can imagine how well this contributed to a positive environment.

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Jake Wilder

I don’t know where I’m going. But at least I know how to get there.