Leader or Whiner


Would you argue with me if I said that we have become a culture of whiners?  Leaders — and of course I use that word not to refer to a position, but to a frame of mind and action — leaders don’t whine.  And our world needs us to lead.

Whining connotes powerlessness.  And unfortunately it also sucks the energy out of others.  Leading does not mean turning a blind eye to difficulties.  Indeed, good leaders are brutally honest about the facts.  But then, consciously or otherwise, when they see difficulties they choose one of two paths: acceptance, if the problems lie outside their influence, or action to stimulate change.

So, you might monitor your inner whiner this week!  When some difficulty – a jerk, the weather, the copier, your Achilles tendon, your teenager – is stimulating you whine, take a breath, one deep breath, and ask yourself: will I lead?  If you want to lead, then ask yourself:  Act or accept?

So:  Observe the whiner.  Choose to lead.  And ask yourself: Should I accept it or act?

To lead with your best self,


    • Now would be a good time for MI to recruit some leaders to make the hard decisions about Government corruption, failed economic policies via the new single business tax and a never ending population being treated for sickness (medicad) rather than solving and preventing incidence public health.
      Any suggestions?

    • When someone else points out a problem, it’s whining. When we identify it, it’s insighful. No one likes whining, but we need to be careful in identification.

  • Thank you for the reminder to not whine, and the concept that acceptance if the problem is outside my influence. /tom

  • Leaders lead and whinners whine. Leaders will know when the time has come to take action even when the issue is outside of their area of influence. A leader knows when it is time to take the hit for the team and not capitulate!

  • Timely advice. I would add that if you choose to act, do so more with the attitude of doing good versus all out win when it comes to change. I find it helps open my ears/mind to the suggestions of others and easier to find compromise. Something I learned from Bob Garner.

  • One of the best books on leadership I’ve ever read was “Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton,” by David Gergen. Gergen, who served with four presidents from both major parties, asserts that one of the key elements of leadership is the desire to improve the lives of his or her followers. Using this standard, people such as Hitler or the current leaders of Myanmar, though skilled or powerful at influencing others, would not be leaders because they don’t have the best interests of their people in mind. As much as we may be tempted to complain or whine at times, a true leader knows that doing so saps the strength from the rest of our team, company, or other group. A good piece of advice from Dan for starting the week.

  • Your newsletter is interesting, but visually challenging to read as an electronic newsletter. Please consider using another Font like Verdana or Arial. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the positive word and the constructive suggestion (which, of course, is NOT whining). I’ll check with the experts and, as I suspect they agree with you, you should see a new font in the future!

    • I hope the govenor and the union thugs get the message!!! How long is she going to blame the Bush Admin for her failed leadership.

      • Heartily agree! Let’s whine about what Indiana is doing, the automobile manufacturers, the House, the Senate, the Bush administration, NAFTA, the Democratic National Party for taking away our votes after we decided to break the rules… it’s whine, whine whine all the time. And then, with the power in her hands to do something about one particular problem…. ie. King Kwayme, she punts and ignores! I have a solution… let’s go further into debt and make a movie about it by inviting Hollywood to help erode our budget even more by giving them subsidies that actually net us LESS money.

        • Bill,
          I thought Dave might have verged on whining, but you managed to get yourself fully into the whiners circle. You could be Michigan’s Whiner of the Day.
          How does it make you feel, Bill? I mean that seriously. Sad? Powerless? Brilliant? Angry? I’d encourage you to find the righteous indignation in it all. Find the hope for a better world. Find the desire to make things work, and channel into what Covey would call your “circle of influence.” I mean you don’t think your message is giong to move anyone do you? So, it’s mostly just venting, complaining, whining about whiners. Does the irony get you? You’ve become as bad as the rest of us you despise 🙂
          Where can you make a difference, Bill? Do you think your comments do that? They feel powerless to me not powerful.
          Find a place to be productive and powerful.

          • Mr. Mulhern:
            Thanks for whining that you don’t like my whine.
            Whine on!
            Leading with My Best Self though apparently powerless,
            Grassroots Organizer
            Mulhern in ’10

      • Dave,

        Blanket statements about “thugs” come pretty close to the big W – and in this case I mean Whiner.

        You’re surely entitled to your opinion, but watching the Governor up close about the last thing I see is a whiner. Everything in that woman’s constitution seems to be about action, or it’s completely outside her control – and she seldom thinks it is – acceptance.

        I’m always intrigued by those who throw out that she’s “blaming Bush.” She spends so little time talking about the President, compared to the time she’s working on solutions, that I have to wonder: what are you and others watching or hearing that I’m completely missing. It feels like a major league “whine” when there are no facts, but mere recitation of fellow unhappy/oppositional folks.

        She has some things in her control, and she’s using them every way she can. We are steering through a massive economic transition and there are no simple solutions. It will take effort from all of us – unions? Yes. Calling them thugs hardly helps. Having them worry or fight when their workers wages are cut from $27 an hour to $17 an hour seems like a reasonble fight to me. American Axle? Yes, they CAN go to Mexico, but let’s hope they can find profitable and fair arrangements here. Governor? Yes.

        Here’s the point: Let’s all do everything we can, Dave. Don’t buy into a simple we-they, and attack and whine about the enemy. We need to build on strengths. Disagree, sure. But be fair and be constructive. See Karen’s point above for a useful distinction between constructive criticism and belly-aching.

        Have a great, whine-free day!


        • You can call it whining but I see Toyota opening 18 – 20 plants in the US over the last eight years and none in Michigan. They are rightly avoiding the union and their bulling tactics.

          Why isnt MI offering the same or better tax incntives for these foreign car companies to come to MI. You can take trips overseas all day long but the real action is in offering concrete real incentives like tax breaks.

          I am in manufacturing in MI and it takes all my energy to keep my head above water. I don’t need the State Government as one of my obstacles. The more these companies abandon Michigan the less attractive my Michigan made products become.

          We all have to make adjustments in this economy. The small manufacturer has made these changes to their compensation, healthcare, overhead etc. The state government needs to meet reality and make real changes to save what we have left in this state.

          • Dave,
            Thanks for staying engaged.
            This is a pure curiosity question: have the changes to the MBT affected your tax picture in a positive way?
            In a “whining” world, we hear from those who have been hit hard. Nobody comes forward and says, “hey that change to the MBT has helped my business.” With gross revenues from the MBT down, there are clearly some winners.
            As to Toyota, the Governor has been working with them throughout, and they have made two big commitments to Michigan. They are, as you know, on the R&D and design front, not manufcaturing production. The latest round of negotiations between American Axle and the UAW have been painful to watch. One would hope that we could get to a new equilibrium without so much pain and so much bad news. It takes two to tango, though. American Axle handing out multi-million dollar bonuses at the same time they are dangling the move-to-Mexico sword was, frankly, something that amazes Japanese executives. Talk to folks at Toyota and see if they are more amazed at labor demands or management not seeing the need for better collaboration. And they’ll tell you: it’s both. It’s always both.
            That’s my point about whining. There’s work for all of us.
            Best of luck as you lead with your best self,

          • Dan:

            For 4 years we, as a company, lost money but still had to pay the MBT because it is based on sales. This caused me to have to take an equity line of credit out to put money back into the business. Now I have my home tied to the success of our business so I am sure you can see where my “whining” about the exiting and bankrupcies of my customers causes me sleepless nights. If my company goes under I lose my house.

            This year we are going to make money based on our aggressive cost cutting. Unfortunately it comes from our workers, health benefits and some electricity savings. The actions of the State and the unions affect many people. The unions in particular have an attitude that if they are going down they will take everyone with them.

            As far as the new MBT, we cannot make up for the taxes paid when we were losing money but since we will be posting a profit for the first time this year we will be paying more this year anyway.

            My overall point is that business is not the enemy and we should be courting as many companies as we can even if it means a serious reduction in the services MI doles out because in the end we can only move forward if we have business as the main employer and not the State. Everybody will benefit from and increase in busineses in Michigan manufacturing included.

          • Dave,
            Had a crazy day yesterday.
            Thanks for sharing your specifics on the tax situation.
            There are surely some in unions with a “take them down with us” attitude, but most I’ve known, just want to be treated fairly. They don’t have their heads in the sand when it comes to global competition, but they also don’t want to give up everything. Nor should they. I don’t disagree with you that businesses – and icnreasingly small businesses – need to drive growth. In the best businesses managmeent and labor negotiate, but they all understand that the pie has to grow if the slices are to get bigger. I admire a company like Herman MIller that went through significant contraction and cost-cutting but fought their way back onto the Fortune list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” In short, it takes leadership in business and in labor to get there. Check out Mill Steel sometime; they were twice names “Best of the Best” in a Grand Rapids area competition to find great companies. They are unionized – Canadian Auto Workers and US Steel Workers. They work WITH their unions and it works. Their workers will even cut hours if it creates productivity; guess why: they beneift through profit-sharing despite losing on the wage side.
            So, that’s why I’m not an ideologue and have problems with people who paint unions (or businesses or politicians) with the broadest of brushes.
            As to Michigan’s situation and taxes. There is a critical balancing act that goes on. Private investment by individuals and businesses are vital. But so are public investments; think: roads, schools, prisons, enforcement, all of which generate quality of life and the foudnation for economic activity.
            It is no easy challenge when there is sustained contraction. Nobody (other than a few right wing wackos, which I don’t think you are) believes that state tax policy got us where we are. We’re smakc in the middle of most tax indices. We are here, and you must knwo it given your business, because we are watcing the end of an era: low wage, high pay/profit manufacturing. Technology and foreign competition have made the mid-50s model untenable. So, now we scramble for public and private resources to get ourselves on our feet.
            Public spending on health care matters, otherwise the Blues and others will spread uncompensated ER costs to . . . guess who? . . . you, Dave. Education matters, because if we don’t have an educated workforce we’re sunk.
            Have we shrunken public spending? Hugely. Cars, travel, training, on and on — all cut if not altogether eliminated. Is there room for contraction in public spending? Sure. What’s the biggest area? Prisons – a department with more employees than all public/mental health and all aid programs put together (and those are #2 and #3). Can Jennifer cut those back? No. Not without legislative help. Will they? No. Why? You ask them. We have the most restrictive guidelienss in the mdiwest; we pay (welfare?) to keep thosuands of people in prison instead of getting the productive and into the economy. That’s overhwelmingly our best prospect for savings. Where is business on that issue?
            Hope this sheds some light.
            I wish you enormous success in your work to build a successful business and keep good jobs in Michigan.

  • Good advice. In these tough economic times, it seems like the whiners are coming out of the woodwork (does this make me a whiner?).

  • Sometimes acceptance is a courageous action. We don’t always have to change things we don’t agree with or people who don’t agree with us. In fact, acceptance of the things we can’t or don’t need to change frees us up to act creatively.

    Look how much energy, time, money, and social capital we waste trying to change others in ways that don’t work very well — prison, war, etc.

  • Whining and negativity feed on themselves and create more of the same. I have recently discovered A Complaint Free World, at acomplaintfreeworld.org. I may not eliminate whining completely, but I have become more conscious of how my comments affect those around me. Negativity really does suck the energy out, like you say.

    A philosophy professor during college said if you don’t think your positive thoughts affect the world around you, be assured your negative thoughts will.

  • You can call it whining but I see Toyota opening 18 – 20 plants in the US over the last eight years and none in Michigan. They are rightly avoiding the union and their bulling tactics.

    Why isnt MI offering the same or better tax incntives for these foreign car companies to come to MI. You can take trips overseas all day long but the real action is in offering concrete real incentives like tax breaks.

    I am in manufacturing in MI and it takes all my energy to keep my head above water. I don’t need the State Government as one of my obstacles. The more these companies abandon Michigan the less attractive my Michigan made products become.

    We all have to make adjustments in this economy. The small manufacturer has made these changes to their compensation, healthcare, overhead etc. The state government needs to meet reality and make real changes to save what we have left in this state.

  • I’ve always found that whining never accomplishes anything. However, for some reason, that is the route of choice for most people. And unlike getting angry, which sometimes makes you feel better, whining doesn’t do that either. So I stick with a positive attitude. And while having a positive attitude doesn’t solve all my problems, it annoys enough people to make it worth the effort.

  • […] LEADER OR WHINER? Posted on May 19, 2008 by hoopscoach Hope everyone had a great weekend.  This morning in my e-mail ‘inbox’ I received a great message from Dan Mulhern and his awesome newsletter (click here).  The topic? Leader or Whiner? […]

  • “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him/her drink.” I understand in an abstract sense that we cannot change a person or make anyone do anything they are unwilling to do. We can only change ourselves. Fresh from discussing this very same topic with two colleagues this morning, I offer a new twist on an old cliche. A form of tough love, if you will. “You can’t make the horse drink but you can push his/her head into the water and force the issue.” By accepting situations where action can and should be taken, we are becoming part of the problem.

    A wise colleague responded that the person holding the horse under water then is at risk of getting soaked. Or worse. A leader should not be afraid of doing what’s necessary to lead, stopping short of drowning the horse and defeating the cause. Sometimes change can be stimulated, sometimes it requires a bit more force. Slavery in the US did not end because people whined about it nor would there have been change if people had just accecpted it as an unchangeable institution.

    Whining will not improve our economy or end any wars. Prison, war, restructuring, etc. are the result of strategies/choices made by people to achieve a desired end, but positive change for those affected is not necessarily the end goal. If change were the goal, different strategies and choices would be necessary. Most of these strategies are designed to maintain the status quo and there is a tremendous resistance to change. Therefore we begin to buy into the notion that things are beyond our control and we must accept them.

    And so the whining continues.

  • I have no intention to argue the point between leader and whiner. My concern is that we have become a nation of blamers. Americans through the years have had a tendency to emulate the president. We see in George W. Bush, the poster child of a blamer. It’s always someone else’s fault. Georgie can never blame himself and take responsibility for his totally incompetent character and personality.

    • Wow! I would like to see some examples. If you are talking legislation the last time I looked the Democrates have been in control…

  • Hi Dan,

    One of our old colleagues at UD High used to have a simple sign in his classroom – “No whining allowed”. Carl was always trying to get his students to accept the challenges that life threw their way. I can not begin to count the number of times I have thought about that sign, especially when I find myself whining about all of the little stuff of life that challenges me.

    Thanks for your great work!

  • When I hear someone complaining about the economy, or the fact that their new draperies came from a dye lot different from the bedspread, or their car broke down and they had to spend their whole tax incentive to fix it, I think to myself, “and you think YOU have problems????!” How many people in Baghdad, with bombs dropping on their heads, would be so happy if the economy were so bad they had to cut back on the use of their car… because they don’t dare drive their car! How many people in Myanmar or China, who have watched their children die, would be first in line to trade places with someone whose biggest problem is a color mismatch in their bedroom? How many people around the world, payng half their income for food, would wish to get a tax incentive so they could have more than one meal a day?

    I could go on… how many people whining about their shoes pinching are grateful to have feet? How many people whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be are grateful to have a memory, and a mind that works?

    When I think I have a problem, like tension about being late for an appointment, I try to reframe it. Like, “Maybe this will be the worst thing that happens to me today, and wouldn’t that make it a perfectly lovely day–no multiple deaths among family and friends, no plagues, a car that works, etc.”

    Americans’ expectations about how things should always be are so hyper-unrealistic compared with the expectations of other people around the world–people who are happier!

    Remember the Serenity Prayer: As you say, Dan, we need to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Venting just lets off steam, wastefully. If that steam were harnessed to change things, how many good things it could drive, like steam engine.

    While my heart goes out to someone who’s invested even his home in his hope that the economy will turn around, and my hope is that it will, it seems unrealistically naive and simplistic to suppose that one woman in the governor’s mansion of one state has the power to change the worldwide economy or the national economy. We need to remember that Michigan is just one part of a very large system, all of it in decline. All of us need to do what we can, and not look over our shoulders to cast stones at others, imagining that they could do more (as they may imagine that we could do more).

    Great advice, Dan: accept the things we cannot change.

    • Activadvocate:

      Your comment about the lack of power of the govenor to changes things is incorrect. She does have the ability to make Michigan an attractive place to do business. She has the ability to lower taxes for corporations so they want to come to this state.

      There is another side to the whining question and that is the ability for people to take constructive criticism. I am just an example of many small businesses that in total employs millions of individuals. The fact that our tax policy in Michigan is driving existing companies out of the State and keeping new manufacturing from coming in is directly hurting millions of workers. The small businesses that do not have the resouces to move are losing there customer base and many are closing their doors.

      Don’t you think that encouraging business in the state and thus getting millions to keep their jobs and create new ones is better than people moving out of state and reducing the tax base or people staying in the state and becoming unemployed and taking benifits out of the tax revenues?

      The govenor not only has the power but the obligation to see to it that as many people who can work have the opportunity to do so.

      To say that this is unrealistic and simplistic is horribly dismissive and arrogant. This is her job!!!. Look around to the other states that are making changes and reaping the benefits of new business in their states. If she cannot affect change in a POSITIVE way then what is she doing there!!!

      • Antiadvocate,
        Eloquent thoughts on a personal and spiritual level. We are surely blessed in this country beyond all objective measures of fairness.

    • Dave,
      You’re right SHE’S THE GOV!
      But you’re wrong that she can willy-nilly lower taxes. There are two houses to the legislature, and there is the question of how you fund services that people want. Do you remember that the Rs NEVER put on the table a plan to balance the budget without taxes last fall.
      So, I think CONSTRUCTIVE criticism means getting beyond the wishful: eliminate corporate taxes. And move towards something based in facts as difficult as you face in your own business.

      • Dan:

        Who said anything about eliminating Corporate Taxes? Just make them competitive to other states that are getting the manufacturing jobs.

        Also there is a big difference between services peple want and services people need. People want alot of things and the question becomes should they do for themselves or feed off the government.

  • Good Morning,
    Reviewing all the comments so far due to your whine article, interesting!
    Dan I thank you for bringing in thoughts, ideas, and always trying to stir up my complacency (that is to get me outside the privacy box of my ordinary existance where I basically hide out).
    Leading has been many things, such as challenging, changing, time consuming, unrewarding, till you have perhaps one rewarding moment that carries a long ways in your memory.
    Thanks for listening and your right each of us can make a difference one person at a time….I will strive to make this place better then when I found it.

  • Name calling is related to whining, since a person can be called a whiner as a tactic. If the person on the other side of a debate can be called a whiner, or negative, or some other undesirable term, then they are put down. If we are to talk about whiners and whining, then we should be careful in calling someone a whiner. Whining has to do with behaving with the misguided, inappropriate attributes of a child. There are also good and much to be desired attributes of children. And so when we might so “from the mouths of babes,” then we are not talking about whining. A comment with some wisdom is not whining. A comment whose idea can make things better, rather than worse is not whining.

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