Stop bitching, do this instead…

I lift my eyes from the computer screen to see our programmer Jim standing at the door. He closes the door and says: “Hey, I need to talk to you about something”. My heart fills with dread – here it goes again….

This has been the third time he came in to complain. He doesn’t like to use JIRA, you see. He likes to use Hansoft because that’s what he used at his last job. He really wants me to switch to Hansoft. He wants me to switch the entire studio to Hansoft. The studio that has been running on JIRA for years.

After he leaves, more complainers take his place. An artist who wants the lights off in the shared office, an Assistant Producer who thinks our feature delivery process is flawed, and so on, and so on…


Naively I was proud for a while that the team trusted me enough to come to me with their problems. In fact, I encouraged it. I thought I was creating an open atmosphere where people were free to express their frustrations without the fear of reprimand.

What I didn’t realize is that I was breeding an atmosphere of dependence. What was wrong?

  • The team became dependent on the manager to fix their problems. They came to expect it.  They got lazy in thinking through the solutions themselves.
  • It built a sense of entitlement. By listening to them and attempting to solve their problems I made them feel validated in their negative thinking and feel entitled to a fix.
  • It did a disservice to their career development by building bad habits. No boss ever likes to hear about the problems without also hearing about a proposed solution.
  • It made the team feel things are worse than they are. Rather than focusing on solutions, they focused on problems.
  • It discouraged team spirit. People get suspicious when they see their teammates talking to the manager behind closed doors.
  • It took a heavy toll on me. Listen to this complaining daily and you’ll start believing your team and your job sucks and everything is wrong. And since you can’t fix everything for everyone, you feel helpless at times. Hello, depression!

Once I realized what’s going on, I changed my approach.

No Complaining!

I now have zero tolerance for “empty” complaining. Instead, I promote the following.

  1. Understand the problem, its context, scope and history before bringing a problem to the manager. How many people is it a problem for? How did the problem come about? Were there attempts to solve it before? Why things work the way they work?
  2. Have a proposed solution.
  3. Think your proposed solution through. Are there any edge cases? Limitations (budget, time etc)?  How does it affect the rest of the team? What’s the cost (time, effort, money) of implementing it?
  4. Discuss the problem and the proposed solution with the team. Hear their ideas, have them beat on your solution and refine it until it “works” for everyone.
  5. Own the solution. There is a saying “initiative is punishable” 🙂 See the solution through, and enlist the manager to help facilitate it.

This approach has produced tremendous results so far. People on the team became more self-reliant and shown more initiative in finding and addressing problems. It brought the team closer as they solved problems together. It changed the outlook on their projects, job and teammates from negative to positive as they started focusing on solutions instead of problems. It built their confidence as they realized they had the power to change things. And finally, it helped restore my sanity as I no longer had to listen to “empty” complaints.

So my advice: discourage bitching and focus on solutions instead.

Life knocked you down? About to give up? Cowards do that and it ain’t you.

Remember that failure is always the first step to success. No matter how low you feel right now, your can always decide to get back up. Step by step, inch by inch, get back on your feet and try again. Because the true and absolute failure would be if you don’t.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you notto be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson

This is How Startups “Level Up” After Raising Money

Even if you are not running a start-up, this is a must-read: This is How Startups “Level Up” After Raising Money by Mark Suster. I’ve seen too many emerging leaders fail to “level up” by refusing to release the reigns, trust their teams and adjust to the growing scope of their project or company. Don’t make that mistake.

So my counsel at this stage is often: build out your senior team, let them do their jobs, become a leader more than just a doer, allocate your time to the higher-level tasks like setting company goals, managing investors, talking to partners, managing the press, etc. And mostly your job anyways is to be chief psychologist to the uber-talented team you’ve built rather than being chief dictator.


Why you should NOT treat your employees like family

Family first?

Is treating your employees like family a good idea?

Have you ever heard a company say “we treat our employees like family“? I used to think it was a good thing. After all, we typically associate good things with the word “family”. Things like unconditional love. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Safety. Comfort.  There are many articles written on why companies should treat employees like family.

But now I think they got it backwards.  You don’t treat your employees like family to build better teams. Instead, you apply some of the same principles both in family and in organizations to achieve excellence and loyalty in teamwork.

I think a better analogy would be “treat your employees as players on a sports team” because it captures the essence of the team building principles.


Team Huddle

Sports team analogy works better for businesses

Principle #1: Don’t get comfortable

The point of being a part of the family is that you will be accepted no matter what. Your family is your safety net. You can fail, you can be lazy, you can be at your worst – and yet the family will forgive and accept.  The very safety and comfort of the family environment fosters complacency and content. It’s not a good driver for innovation and team excellence.

Instead, tell your people you expect them to step out of their comfort zone, push their own limits and believe they can be bigger and better than even they themselves realize. Only by challenging yourself and those around you the team can achieve greatness.


Principle #2:  Don’t tolerate mediocrity

As harsh as it may sound, a great team does not tolerate bad performers. If one player is continuously failing it affects the entire team in a profound way. It not only lowers the chances of winning, but also breeds resentment, low morale, lack of pride and distrust in leadership. It can very quickly destroy the team from within.

When you tell your people you will treat them as a family, you set a certain expectation on how you will deal with bad performers. And that expectation is that bad performance is acceptable. After all, you can’t fire your grandmother.

Note that I am not talking about someone making a few mistakes here. Making mistakes means they are trying something new – it’s a good thing. I am talking about a consistent and continuous failure in one or more areas of team performance (cultural, moral, technical, etc). I am talking about the kind of failure that cannot or would not be corrected by coaching or by adjusting the responsibilities and the role of the individual (read:  my understanding of success).

If you embrace this principle, everyone on the team can be sure of their own value, can maintain high self-respect and respect for their teammates as well as the leadership. Moreover, they can maintain a sense of pride of belonging to this team.


Principle #3: Demand open and honest communication

Sometimes your wife puts too much salt in your meal but you eat it anyway so you don’t upset her. Sometimes you tell your husband that he’s an excellent handyman to make him feel good even though that faucet has been leaking for over two months now.

While this kind of communication sometimes works in a family environment, it’s toxic in a team. If you don’t have an open and (sometimes painfully) honest communication your team misses out on chances to improve. Therefore it’s of the essence to foster the team’s ability to give and receive feedback openly (but respectfully). They must put egos aside for the good of the team. Which brings me to the next principle…


Principle #4: Put the team first

This is the only principle that I feel ties well with the family analogy (people tend to put family first).

This is also the most important principle of building excellent teams. In great teams individuals put their own interests aside and focus on team’s goals instead. They have each other’s backs.  They leave no one behind, even at personal disadvantage.

Even though this goes against our immediate instinct to self-preserve and is difficult to achieve with consistency, any team that has this mindset is destined for greatness. All other principles become easy and follow effortlessly if you put the team first.


If you’ve successfully applied these principles, you will have a highly efficient, engaged, loyal team that has a great sense of  pride and belonging. A team like this can achieve greatness.

It doesn’t matter whether this team is built within the framework of a business, sport, army or family. The principles, I think, are the same.