As a kid, I whined about everything. Drove my parents nuts. My dad used to call me a chronic complainer. That was his tough love way of saying that whining wasn’t going to cut it in the adult world where everyone has their own problems and nobody’s going to give a crap about mine.
Did I listen? Nope.
It wasn’t until I graduated college and entered the workforce that I finally learned what my dad had been trying to tell me all those years before. Another engineer and I had a run-in. We both went crying to our manager like little kids pointing fingers at each other. Boy was he pissed. “I don’t give a crap,” he said. “Work it out or I’ll fire you both.”
We worked it out. Lesson learned … the hard way.
Years ago I wrote, “CEOs Are Just Like You – Without All the Whining.” A few days later, I got an email from Ivan Seidenberg, then CEO of Verizon and one of the execs I’d profiled. Seems it caught his grown daughter’s attention, since, like my dad, hers wasn’t a big fan of whiners either. He wanted to thank me for getting it right, and because he got to hear from his daughter.
The original story was about three CEOs who started at the bottom, climbed their way up the corporate ladder and ultimately grew two of the Baby Bells from the 1984 breakup of parent AT&T into $100 billion giants that now dominate the U.S. telecom industry: Verizon and the new AT&T (formerly SBC).
Of all the characteristics that mold successful executives, of all the behavioral traits that enabled these men to build great corporate enterprises, the ones that stand out for me are personal accountability and self-reliance. And that means no whining and no finger-pointing. They are counterproductive to a successful career.
I believe these CEOs learned that powerful lesson early in life. It taught them to take the bull by the horns and seek innovative solutions for the many hurdles they would face throughout their careers. And every time they looked a challenge straight in the eye and showed it who’s boss, that built a little more of their self-confidence and reinforced that they were on the right track.
I guess that’s why at least one of them thought it important enough to teach it to his kids. When a lesson works for you personally and professionally, you do your best to pass it on to your family and your organization. And in many respects, your company or your team is like your family. Just as parents teach their children life lessons to help them grow into mature adults, business leaders bring a unique culture and set of values to their companies – usually based on their own life lessons.
Before we all sing Kumbaya and walk off into the sunset, there’s a flip-side to this: not all those lessons are positive. Let’s face it, we all have dysfunctions and bad habits, most of which we also learned as kids. It takes self-awareness, hard work and discipline to not pass them on to our children and our organizations.
One of those detrimental characteristics is coddling. Rather than helping young up-and-comers mature, stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for their own lives, coddling encourages immaturity, egotism and entitlement. Coddling enables whining. They’re two sides of the same coin.
Personal accountability and self-reliance build successful leaders, empowered cultures and great companies. Coddling and whining have the opposite effect. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to raise your kids, but in the business world, this is how it works.
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A version of this originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.
Image credit Charles Haynes via Flickr.