Whiners and Leaders

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 maybe worse, it 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 — jerk, the weather, the copier, your Achilles tendon, your teenager – is stimulating you to whine, take a breath, another deep breath, take another, and ask yourself: “Will I lead?”  If the answer is “yes,” then ask yourself:  Acceptance or Action?

Observe the whiner.  Choose to lead.  And ask yourself: accept or act?

To lead with your best self.


  • I loved this article. It is very true. I need to remind myself. I fall in whining trap from time to time due to pressure of unknown or how to find the solution.

  • I think this pertains to Michigan’s current governor regarding the Flint Water Crises.
    There is neither acceptance nor action, just whining. What he needs to do is roll up his sleeves and take action, be there in Flint day in day out and choose to lead. It’s never too late.

  • Dan,

    This is one of your best articles ever — clear, concise, and truly applicable to all. I very much appreciate the completely political-free nature of your words today as well (as during this particular cycle of the presidential elections nearly everything these days from comedy to tragedy seems to always be layered with political overtones) and am going to share your blog with my entire company. Thank you for the inspiring me to take action as leader.

    Moreover, I will endeavor to always remember this particular blog of yours whenever a whiney thought enters my mind as I consciously try to prevent it from escaping my mouth and instead, take those ultra-important deep breaths.

    Always learning to lead with my best self,

    Anna M. Amato, Ph.D.
    Caretaker, Company Culture
    edtec central, LLC

  • “Whine” is a word I have taken to disliking, since I have so often seen it used in a controlling way. That is, is someone criticizes or complains, then they will be called a whiner, or said to be whining, when whining is matter of how a person complains or criticizes. There is a mature way to be critical, but when that is called whining there is a problem being pushed aside. We should be able to ask, how will this problem be solved without being called a whiner; or to correct someone who has not followed protocol, or violated rules, or has done something unethical.

    I know there are people who read this site, who do not want to hear about politics, but “whine,” and its forms as often used by the political far right. It is part of their set of tools to control and badger well intentioned people, who complain or correct a misstatement or object to unethical actions. It is better to act to correct a problem than to only talk about it, but when it is a person’s actions or words which are to be corrected, speaking to that person about the offense is almost a necessity unless we chose to accept living with their choice continuing in the future.

    I do not enjoy hearing the word whine and its various forms, used to tear a person down. It is better for a leader to identify the problem and help solve it, than to insult the person, who may well be whining. It may be good to put a challenge to the whiner, and say, how can the problem you are talking about be solved? Is it practical for you to solve it, or is it out of your control? Is it out of our company’s / organization’s control? Can we as an organization make changes to improve the situation. Lead the person away form whining, instead of putting them down.

    • Mark John,
      This is one of our best comments ever. I love the balance.
      As I have written MANY times in RFL, authorities forget the power they have over people. And you are right that authorities can cast others as “whiners” who are truly frustrated and trying to be constructively critical. It IS part of the job of the authority — parent, boss, principal, elected official, etc., – to create a context that those voices can be heard (and help them from becoming the kind of powerless, poor-me input) and incorporated for improvement. I love your notion that a firm invitation to the apparent whiner to come up with solutions is also very well put.
      Thanks for your “whining” about people who “whine” about “whiners!” 🙂

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