Do you sometimes feel like the people around you are letting down the side? That the people in charge aren’t doing things the way you think they should?

Well, it’s easy to get negative about your coworkers, teammates and managers. And easier still to find flaws in the system, point fingers and apportion blame.

While it can be healthy to vent your frustrations and let off some steam from time to time, adopting it as a habit is the path to frustration and futility.

So when you’re unhappy with the performance (or lack thereof) of people around you and you aren’t in charge, here are some options.

You’ve Got Options

First, you can leave. If they’re really so terrible, the surest way to change things is to move on. However, that has a host of knock on effects which can make it impractical in the short term.

Second, you can complain to the people in charge. But, it’s hard to complain without seeming negative and ungrateful. Plus, they’ll expect you to come with solutions and not just problems, which raises the bar on what makes sense to take up the line. Or perhaps you’ve complained already and found that the people in charge are a part of the problem too!

Third, you can focus on what’s in your control and change that. My experience is that this approach will almost always serve you well. In fact, I can’t think of a time when it hasn’t been just the right thing for me to do. And it’s a great first step before going to the other options.

Focus on What’s in Your Control

I was reminded of this recently by one of my husband’s former UK basketball players, “Lynn”, who went to the US to play on a college team.

During her first season, she complained about her new teammates, who lacked discipline, didn’t train hard and were out of shape. She also complained about her new coach, who didn’t hold the players accountable or provide the kind of structure and leadership she was used to (yes, my husband is a great coach!).

Most of all, she was angry with herself for getting out of shape and descending to the lowest common denominator behavior along with her teammates.

This was hardly the player we knew from her UK days, who was a super fit athlete and a leader both on and off the basketball court.

The following year, she came back from the summer in better physical shape than ever before. No more complaints, but instead a game plan. Her coach noticed the change, starting listening to what she had to say, and even implemented some of her suggestions. And her teammates voted her team captain for her leadership.

So what happened and what can we learn from it for our own careers?

5 Steps to Turn Things Around

Lynn’s dramatic turnaround revolved around five steps that we can all use, whether personally or professionally.

Return to Your Touchstone

Over the summer, Lynn went back to a basketball camp that had started her on all those great habits that made her a leading player in the UK. It was just the catalyst she needed to go back to doing the things she knew it took to be that great player and leader on the floor again.

It’s easy for even the best of us to get into a negative zone, especially with the stresses of doing more with less and not getting enough sleep. When that happens, it’s time to return to your touchstone.

Get back in touch with the people, places and things that can make you great again.

Recognize What’s in Your Control and What Isn’t

In Lynn’s case, she came to realize that her complaining was doing nothing to change the situation. The only thing she had control over was her own attitude and behavior, so that’s what she focused on. After returning from the camp, there was not another word or thought about those around her and their deficiencies.

When you’re frustrated, it’s often because you’re trying to change something you have no ability to change. In fact, trying to change other people is like pushing on a string. Or like making a baby eat anything they don’t want to eat. Both are unsatisfying and end in frustration.

When you focus instead on things you can change, it’s so much more energizing. You start to see progress and that creates its own virtuous cycle.

Until you get your act together, it’s irrelevant to complain about what others are doing or not doing.

Use Action Instead of Words

Then, Lynn took action. She got in shape over the summer. She adopted a positive attitude. She made a serious commitment to stick to her new habits (which were really her old habits that she temporarily shunted to the side). In this case, it was eating well, working out six times a week, shooting 500 shots a day, and getting at least seven hours of sleep.

The key is to start taking action. Otherwise, you will remain stuck in the same funk as before. Once you’ve taken the steps you can take, your progress becomes visible to others. That’s when you become someone who is walking the talk: someone who is doing the thing rather than telling others what they should do, and encouraging others rather than complaining about them.

What habits do you want to adopt, or re-adopt? What’s fallen by the wayside that deserves a renaissance?

Create Your Support System

Back at school, Lynn engaged two teammates who had a similar work ethic and they started working out together. And she also kept in touch with her fellow basketball camp friends to reinforce her renewed attitude and work ethic.

It’s hard to go it alone, especially when it comes to making change and adopting good habits. That’s why it’s important to find a group of people, or maybe even just one person, who can support you and help you keep going when things get tough.

Who is in your support system?

Stay in Touch with Your “Why”

Lynn was motivated by her desire for excellence. She wanted to be the best player and person possible, and to help her team to be their best. She aspired to be a positive influence in all areas of her life, and to fulfill her potential as a leader.

When you want to make a change and then stick with it, having a bigger purpose is essential. Maybe it’s something you do for your family, or to make a difference and leave a legacy. Whatever the “why” is, it needs to resonate for you. What others think is unimportant.

What would be an energizing purpose for you? What is the reason that’s bigger than yourself that will motivate you and keep you committed?

The Way Forward

When you focus on taking care of what’s in your own control and becoming the best you can be, it moves you away from the negative energy of being a complainer.

More importantly, others will see you in a more positive light and you will be seen as a leader. Others will want to follow you. You will gain respect, and have more opportunities to rise.

Without it, you’re at risk of becoming even more frustrated, and that frustration can turn into bitterness and cynicism over time. And since no one wants to work with people in that state, you can end up isolated and languishing in your career.

Fortunately, there is a way forward.

When you feel frustrated and start getting down on yourself as well as those around you, remember to focus on what’s in your control. Then find a catalyst to help you take action and set up your support system to help you keep going.

You’ll be more productive, feel better about yourself, and bring everyone else up with you. That’s what a leader does.

So, what do you do to lift yourself out of a funk and get back to being your best self?

Leave a comment and let me know.