With Martin G. Moore

Episode #253

Lifters and Leaners: The contribution mentality

In life, there tend to be two kinds of people: there are lifters and there are leaners. Lifters carry the burden for themselves and others… they take on more accountability than the average person, and they don’t rely on anyone else to make things happen.

 And leaners are happy to let them do so!

In this episode, which I hope you find to be pretty straightforward and easy to absorb, my goal is to do just one thing: to explain the differences between lifters and leaners, and help you to clarify which one you are, right now.

As a leader, you want the personal brand of being a lifter, not a leaner. Once you know the difference, the rest is up to you. Like everything in life, you get to choose your path, and make it happen… or not!

I’ve also created a free PDF downloadable so that you can undertake a self-assessment. Are you a lifter, or a leaner?


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Episode #253 Lifters and Leaners: The contribution mentality

A wise old colleague once said to me,

Marty, there are really only two types of people in this world. There are givers and there are takers.

Many years have passed since then, and I’m not necessarily convinced that that’s true. No matter how selfless we are on a day-to-day basis, we all have the capacity to operate from a place of naked self-interest, and vice versa.

Even those who have all the hallmarks of selflessness–those people who we can see dedicating their lives in service of others–well, they’re also satisfying their own personal needs and drivers in some way, shape, or form.

I do like a slightly modified version of the statement, though: the two types of people I tend to see very clearly in the world are lifters and leaners.

Lifters carry the burden for themselves, and for others. They take on more accountability than the average person and they don’t rely on anyone else to make things happen. And leaners? Well, they’re happy to let the lifters do the work.

In today’s episode, which I hope you’re going to find pretty straightforward and easy to absorb, my goal is to do just one thing: to explain the difference between lifters and leaners and help you to clarify which one you are right now.

I’ve even created a free PDF downloadable so that you can undertake your own self-assessment.

As a leader, you want the personal brand of being a lifter, not a leaner, and once you know the difference, the rest is up to you. Like everything in life, you get to choose your own path and make it happen… or not!

12 common characteristics of lifters

1. Lifters make things happen

As Michael Jordan said,

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, and some make it happen.”

Lifters are people who are ‘all in’ on the belief that (as they say in the classics), if it is to be, it’s up to me. They don’t complain about lack of opportunity. They don’t whine about how someone who’s achieved what they couldn’t, had a head start or was in some other way advantaged. That belief doesn’t help. It might make you feel better, but the downside is that it traps you where you are.

Lifters don’t bitch and moan, they just get on with it.

2. Lifters take accountability

In times of great uncertainty and when success is least assured, lifters step in to fill the void. Everyone else sits around looking at each other.

Who’s going to take the lead? A lifter, that’s who! Someone whose willingness to shoulder the burden outweighs their fear of the potential consequences. It doesn’t mean they don’t have fear, just that they don’t give into their fear. It’s amazing how this one thing–the willingness to step into an uncertain void–can differentiate you from everyone else.

I can recall any number of occasions in my career (and even when I was part of really high quality educational cohorts) where my willingness to step in and take accountability to guide the group set me apart. You can’t teach that. It comes from within… or, it doesn’t!

3. Lifters have an internal locus of control

They feel as though they can have a significant influence over the variables in their environment. They’re not victims and they don’t have a scarcity mentality: they have an abundance mentality… the sense of being able to shape their own future.

And lifters know that anyone can do this. We all have the power, if we know what to focus on, and we can discipline ourselves to do it.

4. Lifters believe that, with great privilege comes great responsibility

They feel the obligation to use any gifts they might have.

I know that, compared to many people, my own gifts are meager. But I was taught at a young age to do the best with what I’d been given. Now, people may look at me now from the outside and say, “Marty was lucky“, or “Marty was gifted“, or “Marty had an advantage“. And look, that may well be true. I don’t know.

But I do know in my heart of hearts that whatever role luck, natural advantage, and innate gifts might have played, I’ve always tried to maximize the way I’ve used these, and I’ve sought to contribute. I’ve always felt that weight of responsibility to make a difference by using anything I was lucky enough to have for more than just my own ends.

5. Lifters relish the opportunity to use their energy and confidence to lift others up

There’s nothing better than the feeling of putting yourself out there and watching others take confidence and assurance from that. When it comes to resilience, I often say that people learn through osmosis. If you have grace under pressure, others are going to follow your lead. They too will relax. They too will learn to be calm and rational in crisis situations.

There are so many facets of leadership, so many day-to-day challenges where people look to you for cues on how to respond. Lifters have the positive energy and measured confidence that lifts others up as well… regardless of whether they themselves are lifters or leaners.

6. Lifters take calculated risks

They’re not meek but, equally, they’re not cavalier. They’ll assess the risk of any situation and make it clear where they stand. If a risk is too great, or it looks like it could have a materially negative outcome, lifters don’t blindly push forward.

Part of being a lifter is to call it the way you see it and make sure everyone understands the risks and often the people around you aren’t going to want to hear what you have to say: but lifters say it anyway.

7. Speaking of calling it the way you see it, lifters don’t wait to see which way the wind of opinion is blowing

I’m sure you’ve all noticed the interesting dynamics that can develop in group meetings. Often, no one will venture their opinion until they’re confident that it’s going to be popular.

So, the timid souls sit there, quietly hoping not to be asked to express their views. They wait until a lifter chimes in with their views. Then, they watch how the most powerful person in the room reacts to this opinion.

Now, if the powerful person reacts favorably, they may venture to step to reinforce that point just using different words. But if the reaction isn’t favorable, then they’ll either come out in opposition, or maybe even wait longer hoping that someone else is going to put forward a favorable opinion that they can then latch onto and mimic.

This is where politics comes in. As soon as you start playing up to the boss in a disingenuous way, it’s the thin edge of the wedge. You risk becoming more of a politician than a leader. Lifters put their opinions forward courageously, no matter who’s in the room: they try to swing the conversation, to contribute to diversity of thinking, so they can achieve a better result.

8. Lifters are ‘in the arena’

Just as lifters don’t wait to see where the wind of opinion is blowing, they also don’t wait to follow others into action.

I produced a podcast episode ages ago on this very topic. It was Ep.110: Getting in the Arena – At least have a go. Lifters take action, and they’re prepared to risk failure in the quest for accomplishing something great. And, of course this comes from the famous speech from Theodore Roosevelt: lifters are in the arena striving and competing. While leaners, well, they sit on the sidelines and throw rocks.

9. Lifters don’t resent the extra work and effort

They tend to work harder and commit more wholeheartedly than others do, but they don’t get bitter and twisted about it.

They love the fact that they’re prepared to do more than the next person. It’s not quite a feeling of superiority: that’s not exactly what it is, but it’s more the sense of self-satisfaction that comes from knowing you are prepared to do things that others won’t necessarily do. And I’m talking about the good things that make a difference to those around you, not just working hard to line your own pockets (although, I guess I do know a few lifters who’ve done that as well).

10. Lifters hate the concept of leaning on others

And this is sort of interesting, because it can potentially be a dark side behavior for lifters. Not asking for, or accepting, help can actually be a weakness.

We all need support from time to time. We need to be strong enough to ask for help when we need it. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the fact that lifters won’t rely on someone else to do the work that they know is fundamentally theirs. They will shoulder the burden willingly, and not push it onto someone else because it’s easier that way. Self-responsibility is everything to the lifter, and they just don’t feel right about watching someone else do the lifting for them.

11. Lifters love the fact that they have to struggle for everything they earn

They know that the struggle is an essential part of the process. They know that, to achieve true satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem, it comes from the fact that whatever they have, they’ve earned.

I was listening to an interview with an NFL player during the playoffs at the beginning of the year. He was just coming back, after recovering from a serious injury and his team was marching strongly through the playoffs.

He said, “I just want to get back on the field and play my part.” And the interviewer said, “Well, look, you should be satisfied with the part you played in getting your team to the playoffs before you suffered the injury.

But his reply? “Some guys are happy to sit on the bench and accept their championship ring. I’m not. If I haven’t been part of that struggle, I don’t want the ring“… Lifter!

12. Lifters don’t take handouts

They don’t look for shortcuts. They don’t leach off society. They eschew the sense of entitlement. Now, as much as we are moving to more enlightened times, I do worry that the weight of emphasis seems to be on shifting from individual ownership and responsibility to entitlement and victimhood.

It’s not good for anyone, least of all the people who see their only option as being a leaner. At the risk of butchering that old JFK quote, lifters don’t ask what their organization can do for them. They ask what they can do for their organization.

the key attributes of leaners

Now, we could just look at the leaners and say that the attributes they possess are just the opposite of the 12 lifter attributes. And I guess that would be true, but there are some other distinctive attributes that leaders tend to exhibit that may help you to increase your self-awareness. I have seven of these:

1. Leaners tend to let others take the risks

They’re actually quite conservative, more so than lifters. They typically won’t press forward unless they’re confident that it’s safe to do so, and that victory is assured.

And this isn’t purely a differentiator between lifters and leaners, so we’ve got to be a little bit careful here. Some people just have a lower risk tolerance than others. Some lifters are risk averse by their nature but, in general, lifters are going to step into a risky environment because it requires leadership… even if it stretches the limits of their personal risk tolerance.

You’ll never see a leaner do that, except under duress (which normally comes in the form of compulsion from above).

2. Leaners are happy to draft

Years ago, I was running a 5km race in Canberra, Australia. It was an incredibly windy day, and on this out-and-back course, the first 2.5km was into the teeth of a gale force wind.

My training and preparation in the lead up to this event had gone without a hitch, and my goal that day was to break 17:30. Almost from the start, I was able to settle in directly behind a guy who was running at just the perfect pace. If I sat just behind him, he was going to do all the work, breaking the wind in that first few kilometres and I could save my energy: exactly what I needed to break my target time.

But after a little while, I heard his breathing become labored. I could have stayed behind him for another kilometre or so, and saved my energy for the way home. But, without even thinking, I whipped around his outside, jumped in front of him and said, “Thanks mate, my turn.”

So, I broke the wind for him until we hit the turnaround point. I realized in that moment that I wasn’t happy to draft. Regardless of what time I posted, it just wouldn’t have felt right.

I ended up missing my goal, clocking just over 18 minutes. and I was much happier than I would’ve been if I’d run 30 seconds faster, because someone else did the work for me.

3. Leaners claim credit that’s not theirs to claim

In corporate life, you see people all the time who sit back and wait to see what result is likely to occur before they’ll step in to own it.

I used to marvel at some of the leaners who would watch others shoulder the burden, only to swoop in at the last minute to claim victory.

One executive in particular (who I’m certain is not the type of person who’d be listening to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast) was a grand master at this. He would distance himself from something until he could see whether it was likely to be a success. If it did turn out to be successful, he would make comments in a board meeting that gave the impression that he was the mastermind behind the success, and he actually drove it.

He fooled the board, without any problems at all. They thought he was a high performer, but nothing could have been further from the truth. He was just a clever guy and a great politician… and a shameless leaner.

4. Leaners have an external locus of control

Just as I said lifters have an internal locus of control, leaners are actually the opposite, for the most part. But it’s worth giving this some special attention.

Leaners see any failing on their own part to be due to events, circumstances, or people outside of their control. Or, maybe, they just put it down to bad luck. This enables them to easily rationalize any failures, without taking personal accountability for them.

They tend to be full of blame and full of excuses. It’s simply never their fault. This creates a cultural sickness that everybody below that leaner tends to be infected with. Eventually, you have a team full of leaners. High performance can never live there.

5. Leaners are ‘wood butts’

Watch out for this one in the leaders who report to you. When you ask them to do something, or ask them why they didn’t do something, they have a standard response: “Well, I would, but…”.

This is designed to give the impression that they have the right intent, but that circumstances are unfortunately against them. There always seems to be a compelling excuse: but you know that, to me, all excuses sound the same. It doesn’t matter what’s coming out of their mouth, the only thing I can hear is, “The dog ate my homework”. You either got it done or you didn’t.

6. Leaners shy away from hard things

Whereas lifters believe in the inherent benefit of doing hard things, leaners don’t. They’d prefer to find a shortcut or an easy way. But in leadership, you know there are no shortcuts and there are no silver bullets. Once you know what will truly make a difference, you’ll either do it or you won’t. And as much as we might not want to hear it, it really is that simple.

I really love that old blog post from Mark Manson, the most important question: “Are you prepared to do the hard things to get what you want? Or do you just want the prize at the end of the rainbow without really having to do the work“. Lifters do, while leaners wish and wonder.

7. Finally, leaners have an entitlement mentality

They believe that they deserve things without thinking about where those things come from. This is why it’s so important to have this really clearly in your mind: when someone says the words, “I’m entitled…” in respect of pretty much anything. Well, that’s a giveaway that you’re dealing with a leaner.


What I’ve come to realize more and more over time is that I deserve nothing, and I’m entitled to nothing. And that’s not just a throwaway line: I genuinely believe it. Anything of value that I want, well, I’m going to have to go out and earn it. End of story. And if I haven’t earned it, it just won’t mean anything to me. I won’t value it, and it certainly won’t make me feel happy.

So, I’m completely comfortable doing everything I can in my life to be a lifter. And if I manage to prop up a few leaners along the way, well, I’m okay with that too.


  • Lifters or Leaners Quiz – Download PDF Here

  • Ep #110: Getting in the Arena – Listen Here

  • Ep #240: The Talented Jerk – Listen Here

  • BLOG POST: The Most Important Question of Your Life – Read Here


  • Explore other podcast episodes – Here

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