The Foolish Seduction of “Free Fall” Complaining

Accountability Collaboration Contribution


This is a perspective from a CEO who has spent a career thinking about leadership, accountability, and problem solving. Some people in organizations think about problem solving as a pitch and catch process. It is similar to jumping off a 50-story building and feeling like we’re flying for the first 49 floors. Of course the landing changes that perspective. When we participate in an exercise aimed at developing a list of complaints and concerns it might feel really good while we’re doing it …almost like we’re flying. I have been part of these kinds of meetings where list making of problems and concerns has an incredible momentary high. But like the jumping metaphor, the landing is the same. Why?

Complaining and developing lists of concerns, as a unilateral exercise, usually just results in problems being shifted around. Well intended managers often think this is great leadership but unwittingly end up shouldering the list of problems on their own. Of course most often they cannot solve the problems unilaterally. In the same way, well intended employees do a “problem dump” (a.k.a. a bitch session) and feel good until the bloom falls off the cathartic rose. We can become bitterly disappointed when the problem list remains mostly unchanged over a period of time. We hear phrases like, “Why didn’t they….?”

Self accountability always involves bringing a personal contribution to solving problems. Hit and run, or pitch and catch, problem dumping is usually counterproductive. Resist problem identification as a singular activity. It usually promotes organizations to become better at making lists than taking action.  If we want to drive a meaningful problem solving process, each of us has to come to a problem or issue with a contribution in hand.  The fix is almost always a collective connection of those impacted and involved.

I look for people who are self accountable problem solvers, not problem dumpers or collectors.   How would you identify yourself? 

Be a solver. Live in the Triangle.