Soil of self destruction
April 16, 2008
Eaton's department store built its grand enterprise on the basis that customers could return their merchandise for a full refund. Complaints for them became opportunities for winning customer loyalty. It was an idea unheard of at the time and became the winning formula for their enormous success.
They turned an adversarial attitude into customer loyalty.
That's okay for a smart sales organization, but what does complaining do to our lives as leaders?
Part of the leadership function is to serve as a repository for the complaints of our publics. (I don't know about you, but I figure I have 16 publics I report to.) We collect negative musings of our staff and community with a smile and nod of the head, all the while listening to a salient whisper of deep significance. No, we don't play games. But we do learn to keep our mouths shut and listen intently.
Some complaints can only be ministered to by a listening ear. Others need therapeutic response and action. Like a sponge we absorb, and then in times and places of our own choosing, we find ways to squeeze out our hurts, anger and disappointments so our lives do not become the baggage handlers of everyone's complaints.
But how do I resolve my complaints that are fair, and even those that aren't?
We see those whose lives are crusted by complaints that form over their personalities a nasty and life-defeating film that keep the oxygen of life itself from their needed renewal. "Oh, dear God, keep me from becoming that," I pray.
By realizing that leaders have no right to complain to staff. That is not in their job description. We all do, from time to time, but it is still not right. As much as we want to create a collegiality among our people, inevitably they need a leader who is different from the rest. To let ourselves complain scratches away at our credibility and, eventually, our trustworthiness.
To be human and to show self-revelation, as Senator Clinton did with her tears, is good. To let our community know of our humanity, and how life digs raw at us too is good, in measure. That is so different from complaining.
Beyond its inappropriateness, what do I do with my inner complaints? I see my inner life as soil, and I know that incubating complaints will produce weeds that prevent nourishment to what matters. My life would become a sorry sight, out of touch with grace and beauty.
Leaders are human. We also feel sorry for ourselves. We can list the unfairness of life. But if that becomes the ruling emotion, then we need to get out of leadership. For one not only infects one's self, but others also.
Complaining acts like blight. A few years ago blight affected the potato fields of Prince Edward Island. There, potatoes are to the islanders what oil is to Albertans. There was nothing they could do but destroy the entire year's crop and start all over.
Father of gentle reasoning and loving Spirit, help me give up my "small ambitions" and allow Your gracious presence to lift me from the nagging inner conversations I have with myself over how unfair life may be. Instead, today, I release them into Your hands so the soil of my inner life will be free from the plagues of self-pity. Then, my Lord, I will know Your endorsement. Amen.
"Complaint is the soil in which seeds of destructive attitudes are planted."