Courtesy of Dott. Salvo Noe

Recently our two-year old granddaughter couldn’t find her favorite toy character from her farm set. She was frantic. It was all she needed right then to make her life complete. Her mom and dad looked everywhere but couldn’t find it. Her dad offered the sage advice, “Mya, why don’t you focus on all the toys you have, and not the one you don’t have right now?” If only parenting a toddler was so easy!

Last week Reuters published a story with a photo of a “No Whining” sign on the Pope’s door. Under the slash symbol the sign states in Italian, “violators are subject to a syndrome of always feeling like a victim and the consequent reduction of your sense of humor and capacity to solve problems.” It continued, “the penalty is doubled if the violation takes place in the presence of children. To get the best out of yourself, concentrate on your potential and not on your limitations.”

To wallow is to take a bad situation and make it worse. When we wallow we often “blamestorm” rather than brainstorm in our search for someone to point the finger at. Wallowing often means craving certainty and longing for the “good old days” — which many used to complain about and would resent actually returning to. When we wallow we’re unhappy with “now” and want to be anywhere other than in the present moment. To wallow is often to be overwhelmed by the problem and narrow our field of vision to few or no options.

Many senior leaders are quick to complain about whining, wallowing, and blamestorming in others. However, many don’t recognize their own behavior being reflected back. And the leader often doesn’t realize the negative and pessimistic swamp he or she is mired in.

In positions of power, wallowing leaders use fear to “motivate” and manipulate. Pessimistic leaders believe most people are incompetent and can’t be trusted; they focus on weaknesses and gaps. Wallowing leaders use punishment, criticism, and threats to shove others toward higher performance. Bullies are usually wallowers. Wallowers set up destructive magnetic energy fields of negative vibrations.

Wallowers often play the victim. Their world is full of conspiracies with lots of “they” talk; “They are out to get us”; “They don’t understand”; “They never listen to us.” Wallowers routinely ride the Bitter Bus down Helpless Highway through Frown Town past Pessimism Place, Whining Way, and Dead End Drive into Pity City. Many wallowers drive the Bitter Bus and actively recruit fence-sitting followers to join them.

As film director and actor, Woody Allen once put it, “More than any time in history, mankind now faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

It is a choice — albeit often a tough one to own up to. We can either lead, follow, or wallow (click to see a chart outlining each choice). We can move from groaning to growing.

The Pope’s sign closed with this this smack on the side of the head: “Stop complaining and take steps to improve your life.” Thanks. I needed that.