Axios Finish Line

An analog clock with only two symbols instead of twelve: the symbols read 'AM' and 'PM'.

Axios CEO Jim VandeHei is back with his weekly column on hard-learned lessons on life and leadership. Let him know what you think: [email protected].

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 350 words ... 1½ minutes. Thanks to Elizabeth Black for the copy edit.

1 big thing: Don't be a loser

Illustration of flies swarming around a trophy made of a trashcan with a plaque that says "Loser".

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

If you trash a friend, a competitor, a colleague or company to win ... you are losing.

  • Why it matters: Nothing screams weakness like arguing mainly why someone or something else sucks. It projects the opposite of what you often think and hope.

Conversely, nothing shouts strength like showing why you or your ideas are better.

  • Always operate from a position of strength.

It took me years to fully grasp this. I often made the mistake of not just spotting the shortcomings of others, but harping on them. In retrospect, that's weak.

  • When we launched Politico, the 36-year-old me would too often criticize our rivals instead of simply playing up our unique strengths. It would have been wiser to project self-confidence based on our cool idea for a new publication.

This doesn't mean you can't clinically offer assessments of competitors or people. Just don't make it your core focus and obsession.

This choice unfolds daily in business deals, internal disputes, and talent fights. Here are things to watch to sniff out winners — and losers.

  1. Whiners: People who gripe and moan about others' unfair advantages or flaws are usually exposing their own insecurities. Big red flag.
  2. Whisperers: You never want to do business or hang around with people who gossip about others. One day, they'll gossip about you.
  3. Weasels: The only thing worse than people who are so insecure that they unwittingly act with malice are those who do so with forethought. They are snakes.
  4. Wannabes: Watch for signs of someone talking down someone else out of clear envy. This is a telltale sign of lack of confidence and conviction. Wannabe-ism is the gateway drug to weasel-ism.
  5. Wunderkinds: Also watch for those who brag on their own credentials or brainpower. If someone says they're smarter or better than someone else, deep down they fear they're not.

The bottom line: When you're selling yourself, an idea or a product, you win by making your case on your terms — not trashing others.

🎨 Your nature photos

Photo courtesy of Kathy G.

Thanks to Finish Line reader Kathy G. for this stunner, taken at dawn in rural Kentucky.