By Chuck Violand

October 26, 2015

The list I came across of ten things you can do to finish second in anything offered no date of its writing, but I found the suggestions to be timeless, despite their sarcasm.

Suggestions four through seven addressed topics like abusing our health, cheating to get ahead, and not listening to our teachers or coaches. While all of these have important lessons that apply to business, it was suggestion number eight that caught my attention: Always complain during practice. It shows what a great leader you are. Some business owners are world-class complainers. This might have to do with the endless reserve of things we have to complain about, or the years of experience we have in perfecting our complaining.

What many of us don’t appreciate is the subliminal message complaining sends to our people. If things are really this bad all the time is there any future for me here? If the boss spends more time complaining than acting to improve things, what kind of a leader is he? Since people follow our actions before they follow our words, soon we will find that we have a whole company of complainers dragging down morale.

Constant complaining plays out in a slightly different way when we have children we’d like to one day get involved in our businesses. It can be pretty tough convincing them that taking a leadership role in the family business is a promising career path when all we’ve done for years is complain at the dinner table about how bad things are.

As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, owning a business is not a required course in life. It’s an elective. In fact, it’s not only an elective, it’s a privilege! But, just as with so many other electives and privileges, it’s not for everyone.

Suggestion number nine recommends: “Don’t try to build team spirit or encourage others. That’s for losers.” One of the real myths about self-made successes are that they’re actually self-made. My wife and I recently had the honor of attending the ninetieth birthday celebration of Dr. W. Robert Morrison. Bob is one of the most highly regarded organists east of the Mississippi. The highlight reel of this man’s life would fill a documentary, and it would have been easy to label Bob as just another self-made success story. But what we found most impressive was the video presentation of all the teachers, mentors, and colleagues who impacted Bob’s life and refined his musical skills.

The question we should all be asking ourselves is, who lifted us up on their shoulders so we could get ahead, and who are we going to lift up on ours?

Item number ten rounds out the list: “Don’t give 100%. Don’t do your best. It’ll be fun to look back on these years and reminisce about what you could have accomplished.” The great playwright, George Bernard Shaw, stated it much more eloquently when asked if he had his life to live over again, who might he choose to be. He responded that he would be the man he could have been. How many of us, in spite of all the things we may have accomplished, would not answer the same way?

Giving 100% effort, setting goals, finding solutions rather than complaining, and building up others day in and day out requires tremendous effort and discipline on our part. But these are the building blocks of a successful business and a successful life.