Life is complicated, things do not always go our way, we are sometimes asked to live with and implement decisions we personally would not have made, our best laid plans often go awry, and “you know what” just happens.  Because we are human, there are times we just want to feel sorry for ourselves and relieve our frustration via a serious bout of COMPLAINING.

Well, go ahead!  A little complaining is often good for the soul.  It rarely accomplishes anything concrete or specific but it generally feels good and discharges some negative emotion.  But if you are a manager, can you complain too much?  The answer is yes.

While how much is too much is open to some debate — and is ultimately a judgement call on the part of both the complainer and her/his audience — I suggest that it is the audience’s opinion that matters most.  And depending on the audience — your peers and superiors, or your subordinates — the impact of perceived excessive complaining by you as a manager is rarely in your best interest.


There are many ways to think of a managers’ job but among them is certainly that a manager is expected to manage things both easy and hard.  That is, the job is about figuring things out, resolving conflicts and reconciling differences, solving problems, and finding ways to implement decisions even in the face of strong disagreement and resistance.

Sure, your bosses know this is a hard job at times, they have all been there.  But you were probably selected for management responsibility because your superiors had  FAITH in your ability to rise to these challenges.  Excessive complaining up the chain of command about the difficulties of your job, runs the risk of undermining that faith.  Once the seeds of doubt about your suitability for management responsibility are sown among your seniors, they are often very difficult to change.

Part of managing up naturally involves frank discussions with your superiors concerning your plans, objectives, challenges, and proposed actions.  Discussing difficulties is part of such discussions.  But there is a clear difference between laying out your management plan to cope with hard challenges, and communicating a “why do all these things happen to me ?” attitude in the process.  The answer is that they happen because that is the life of a manager.

So in discussions with your superiors, adopt an approach that aims to bolster their faith in you, not one that generates doubt.


Your subordinates are a tempting audience for venting your complaints and frustrations.  You have access to them daily in most cases and as the boss, they come close to being a captive audience.  They — willingly or unwillingly — are often required to sit and listen, if you wish, as you unload your troubles upon them.  However, just as your superiors hope to maintain their faith in the wisdom of selecting you for management responsibility, your subordinates will wish to gain and maintain CONFIDENCE in your management and leadership skills.  Excessive complaining to your subordinates risks gradually undermining the very confidence you wish to create.

As their boss, those entrusted to your management abilities will want to believe you know what you are doing.  The efficacy of your directions and decisions, and their belief that you will protect and effectively represent their best interest, depends upon their confidence in you, as earned by your actions and attitude toward your job.

Being captain of the ship carries the unfortunate burden of having to maintain your calm even in the most violent storm.  Although your insides are sometimes in turmoil, your exterior must convey a sense of control.  Nothing quite disquiets subordinates as much as a boss who seems lost for ideas, or unable to cope with the requirements of her or his job.

So think carefully about how much whining and complaining you wish to unload on your subordinates, who have their own challenges to meet and expect you to rise to your own.  Their confidence in you is at stake.

Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Managing & Leading, Managing People, Self-Management

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