Early in my career I did something that I’m still ashamed of, even after all these years. I was given the opportunity to travel with a medical mission organization to the headwaters of the Amazon River in Brazil to document a remote village and the missionary efforts to reach them. It was an amazing trip. The mission team was headed by Barry Dennison, and we were gone for more than a month. We flew into Manaus, Brazil – about halfway up the Amazon. Then took a light plane for a few hours further up river. Then we charted a freighter for two more days, and finally traveled by dugout canoe for the last day.
I was told later by executives at Sony that to their knowledge, I was the first person to take a video camera to the headwaters of the Amazon River. We were as remote as I’ve ever been, and in the pre-cellphone days, went literally a month with no communication with the outside world whatsoever.
From a logistics perspective, Barry and his team set it all up. They arranged the transportation, hotel, food, guides, etc, and my job was to do all the filming. I did a good job with the shooting of the project, but since I had no stake in the logistics, I complained about everything. As a twenty-something newbie, I acted like I was an entitled “expert” and wasn’t happy with the airline schedule, hotels (or hammocks in the jungle), food – anything.
Later, I realized what a putz I had been, but by then it was too late. Years later I found Barry again, and apologized for my awful behavior. But that realization taught me something very important:
The people who complain the most, are the people who have no stake in the outcome.
People whose job depends on performance don’t complain much because if something fails, they will take part of the blame. But the members of your team or employees in your office that aren’t directly responsible for the success or failure of your project or company, are usually the first ones to whine and moan.
Constructive criticism is good. But whining and complaining sow seeds of strife that will destroy a project, company, or organization.
So make sure every member of your team has a stake in the outcome. Make sure they’re responsible for something that matters. It will make a dramatic difference in their attitude – and your chances of success.