Have you ever been so annoyed with the way things are going and felt like you had little control over them? I was talking to a friend of mine whose wife had been working at a dentist practice for 17 years. In the last 5 months or so the dentist had brought on a new partner. The new partner was a younger dentist and the intent was to pass on the practice to him in a few years. The new partner had a very different view on company culture, direction for the practice, and was perceived as being very arrogant. My friend’s wife was miserable, after all she had spent 17 years building a culture, creating and controlling the variables of her environment. She simply did not mesh with the new world order and it seemed to her that the older dentist was willing to ignore the erosion of staff morale and just let the new partner take charge.  My friend and his wife began to devise a plan that would allow her to retire 2 years early than anticipated; she simply did not see how she could endure this new leadership. As my friend described the situation to me I listened intently. He talked about how they would sell their home to downsize, tighten up their budget and basically do whatever it took so she could retire early. I just listened; sometimes (most of the time) that is what a friend does best right. He did not need my opinion he only needed an ear.

That conversation took place about 6 months ago and just this morning my friend and I connected again. I asked him how his wife’s work situation was going and how the plans were coming along for an early retirement. What he said was so insightful yet not original at all. He said “We have decided to complain less and pray more”. Nothing has changed, but my wife has changed. She decided that she needed to find a new way to look at what she perceived to be the problem. She perceived the problem to be the new dentist partner; however the problem was really her reaction to the new partner. As she stopped complaining and venting with co-workers the atmosphere actually improved. That improvement was seen in the form of her feeling less stressed and not taking things personally, she had begun to separate her identity from her work. It was the false sense of control and ownership over the company culture that was really bothering her. Now this is not to say that the new dentist did not have some accountability for the staff moral going down hill, but my friend’s wife was actually contributing to that by her unhappiness. In short, the early retirement plan is on hold and the focus is on how she can work with new leadership instead of separating herself from it or worse yet complaining to staff about it.

We all go through these experiences. I have talked about before in my post Admit It We’re Lost that at times leadership looks like it has not clue about what is going on. No matter what our title in an organization we all have a boss. Either around coffee, beers or the proverbial water cooler we have all been engaged, lead or silently observed others complaining about how a leader is doing something stupid. Stupid is a harsh word, but if you reflect on those conversations they are not about being in support of, rather they are said to tear down the leaders credibility. I am always amazed when I stop for a second and reflect on my motivation behind comments that are not supportive of others. Not pointing a finger at anyone in this post, rather at myself, I have to admit that most of the time I am doing it out of frustration. I have stopped trying to bring the solution and have joined the problem. As a leader I am undermining the respect others have for me and making the problem grow. I have to admit I struggle here. I struggle with being responsible for making sure that what the organization has entrusted me with is successful, holding others accountable and at the same time speaking life into others. In the case of my friends wife, she felt she had an obligation to speak against the changes impacting the staff, to defend the culture she had worked so hard to build but in the end she found herself simply “complaining”. I think I will take her advice and pray more and complain less and continue to seek out others who I see model the type of successful leadership that creates better people through accountable leadership and positive problem solving.

Some of the post we write can be very humbling. When Bill and I started this blog it was to be honest and upfront in our journey as leaders. Infusing character into business culture means being vulnerable. We do not have it all figured out and this is one of those areas where I feel the effort is worth the reward. In the words of the great basketball coach Pat Riley;

“If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.”





  1. Alli Polin | Reply

    Chris, this is an incredibly powerful story. “Nothing has changed, but my wife has changed.” Reminds me of the power of Arbinger too.

    Really beautiful. Great read.

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