It’s early on a Saturday morning and I am ten minutes into my Saturday morning routine; settled in sipping on a hot cup of coffee and engrossed in my daily readings.  There is another forty five minutes before the girls have to get up and get ready for dance practice.  My wife joins me and together we share a very nice quiet time. The girls get up slowly and peacefully they each sit down to eat the strawberry crepes my wife and I made them and here it comes, in the high pitched whiny voice that sends me instantly through the roof, “I don’t like strawberries in my crepes!”  I tried to remain calm and asked her to pick them out and set them off to the side.  I knew very quickly that my rocket was getting ready to take off, sure enough, it did. My intolerance reared its ugly head.  We made it through the morning, but the peacefulness in our home was long gone. I don’t tolerate whininess very well.

It turns out that not tolerating certain behaviors puts me in good company.  Recently, I heard a great story about an American leader.  This story came from Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir Known and Unknown. Apparently Rumsfeld was a hard man.  That probably isn’t too surprising considering he was Secretary of Defense for two different presidents.  He recognized this about himself and balanced that by placing some “softer” leaders around him.  As most leaders do Rumsfeld had to tolerate some things, but the story my friend shared indicated that there was an absolute intolerable offense that Rumsfeld would not stand for.  If anyone came into a Rumsfeld meeting or situation and complained about a proposed solution without offering an alternative, he would be asked to leave immediately.  There would probably be some long term damage to your career with Rumsfeld if you were the one asked to leave.

As a leader, what do I tolerate and what do I not tolerate?  I started listing things in my head and then began to write them down.  Here is what I came up with:

I would tolerate:

  • Trying and failing and trying again
  • Conflict
  • Opposing Views

I would not tolerate:

  • Negativity
  • Complaining about a solution without providing an alternative
  • Gossip
  • Dishonesty
  • Half Measures
  • Quitting
  • Whining

What is the best way to let other people know this about your leadership style?  One of the things I have seen leaders do is create a bio sheet of sorts that tells a little bit about themselves and sets some expectations.  This sheet can be provided to new staff members as they join the team and should alert them to some cultural do’s and don’ts.

From setting to setting this list of what we will and will not tolerate can change, but, like Rumsfeld, there are some absolutes for me.  One of them is dishonesty and the other is probably half measures.  I might put up with half measures in some situations, but under no circumstances can I tolerate dishonesty.  You might feel the same way.  Dishonesty on different levels has caused much damage in peoples lives. You don’t have to look far to see where dishonesty has negatively impacted your work or family.

A saying comes to mind, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.  Create your own list of tolerances and intolerances and find an effective way to communicate this to those on your team and in your family.  If you ask my children what will immediately send me through the roof, they will tell you!  If you ask my team at work, they would know it as well as my children.


  1. Melissa Brannon | Reply

    Like you but said a little differently, I tell my staff please do not come to me with a problem without a solution or else I will see it as whining and I get that enough at home..

    You know I have an open door policy and as soon as someone walks towards my fish bowl, I am looking for courage, strength, and discernment on how they will work through the problem and the creativity they put into the “solution”.

    Tomorrow is a new day- cant wait for hearing more about solutions to help us run a better organization.

    Thanks for sharing your blog. Always encouraging!!


  2. Christian Williams | Reply

    Wow, you really brought it home by drawing the parallel to your girls. I feel the same experience with my kids. I definitely agree about the tendency to see whining where there is not an alternative solution proposed, however, I’m not 100% sure if I would want to shut down reports from my employees if they did not have the alternative in hand. I think some people have a knack for taking a critical eye and others have a knack for coming up with creative solutions. Some people have both skills, but that combo is harder to come by.

    If there was a particularly disheartening problem without an obvious solution, I think I might want it brought up so I could get the team to help work it out. I think I would encourage my employees to take one of the following two approaches. Let me know that:

    (1) _blank_ is a problem, we should do it this way instead because of x, y, z
    (2) _blank_ is a problem. It is a hard problem. So hard, that I don’t know how to do it differently, so I don’t think anyone has done a bad job by not getting it right, but I think we need to take a look at it as a team.

  3. James Case | Reply

    Great article and spot on! One suggestion of how to communicate this would be to post the list on your office door. 🙂

    Christian…great suggested alternative approach as well.

    Thank you for sharing.


  4. Darmowy Precel | Reply

    You can definitely see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

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