Players vs. Pretenders (Part 2)

This week we are continuing with part two of our series on Players vs. Pretenders. In this lesson, John talks about integrity, making hard choices, and finishing strong. You definitely don’t want to miss this lesson!           

For the application portion of this episode, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow dive into how they apply John’s principles in their own leadership, and they offer some application to help you take this lesson and make it a reality in your own life.

 Our BONUS resource for this series is the “Players vs. Pretenders Worksheet,” which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.


Mark Cole:       Hey, podcast family. I'm Mark Cole. Welcome to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. This is the podcast that adds value to leaders who multiply value to others.

This week, we are in part two of our series on players versus pretenders. In this lesson, John is talking about how we can determine if we're a player or a pretender. Today, John's going to be talking about integrity, making hard choices, and yes, finishing strong.

You definitely want to remove all distractions and join John and my co-host Traci and I as we unpack this lesson. Now, when John is done teaching Traci Morrow and I will come back and dive into how we are applying John's principles in our own life and in our own leadership. We're also going to give you some applications to help you make this lesson a reality in your life and in your leadership.

Now, if you would like to download our free bonus resource for this lesson, it's a free fill-in-the-blank worksheet. You can go to and click on the Bonus Resource Button. All right, that's it for now. Here is John Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  The sixth difference between players and pretenders is players value, integrity, and pretenders value image. You show me a player and integrity is so important to him or her. You show me a pretender and their integrity or character is not important in their life, it's their image. They want to come off looking good. In your notes, the rules of navigation are what's under the surface should carry more weight than what's above the surface if the ship is going to make it through the storms without capsizing. Integrity is like this. What's under the surface better be greater than what's above. You cannot give what you do not have. We travel within before we travel without.

Number seven. The seventh difference between players and pretenders is that players make the hard choices and pretenders make the soft choices. And I'm going to explain soft and hard choices in just a moment. But what I have noticed is you can distinguish between a player and pretender by just watching their decision making. Yogi Berra, don't you love this quote. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Boy, there's a decision maker, isn't it, huh?

You see the problem with the soft choices that pretenders make is, here's the problem with the soft choice. We all have the power of choice, but once we have used that power of choice, then our choices begin to have power over us. Boy, that's a lesson that I think every one of us want to constantly work on in our own life.

Now, why are hard choices that players make, why are those hard choices so hard to make? Every one of us in this room, whether it's leading a business, an organization, a company, an army, a church, anyone that's in a leadership position understands that probably the deciding difference between a leader and a non-leader is the willingness to make the hard choices.

In fact, I've always said that people that don't lead are not people who don't know the right decisions. People who don't lead are people who are unwilling to make those right decisions. We want to make palatable decisions. We want to make decisions that people are agreeable with. Peter Drucker was right when he said, "Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision."

I would take that great quote by Peter Drucker and I would extend it for he said, "Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision." I would say, "Whenever you see a successful business, someone is continually making a courageous decision." You cannot live off of one courageous decision. I can tell you success is making one tough, hard decision after another.

In fact, on decision making, I love to teach on decision making. In leadership conferences sometimes I'll do a whole session on nothing but how to make decisions, especially the timing of decisions. The timing of a decision, a leader understands, is as important as the decision itself. When to respond. When to move. When to act. And when I do decision making seminars, sometimes I make this statement, that 95% of all decisions can be made by any intelligent sophomore high school kid. 95% of all decisions, any company, any church, any organization could be made by any good, intelligent sophomore kid. But you get paid as the leader for the other 5%. It's those 5% that's going to make you or break you. And that's always in the hard decision arena.

The eighth difference between players and pretenders, players finish out and pretenders fade out. In other words, players understand the power of finishing well. And I put in your notes what I think is a danger. And when I was writing this letter, the difference between players and pretenders, when I was writing this lesson, I thought I needed to put this here. Some people I think start out as players, and then after a few years of success, they begin to go through the motions and they become a pretender.

If you would stop for a moment, and if I had an opportunity to talk to you one-on-one in this room, and you would say, "John, do you think pretenders start out as pretenders?" My answer to you would be, "No. I think most pretenders start out as players." But I think what happens in the course of life is so many of them achieve a certain level of success and they decide that they're going to live off of that level of success. Or they get a certain image and they decide they're going to protect that image.

Many pretenders today were players yesterday. But in the process of time, they began to take shortcuts. Shortcuts don't pay off in the long run. Whereas my friend Nancy Dornan says the longest distance between two points is a shortcut. Many, many people, they say, if I could just kind of image it, if I can fake it till I make it. And they become pretenders because they get to a certain level and they decide to protect that level.

Now, why do we become pretenders? Three reasons. One, we overestimate the event and we underestimate the process. We overestimate what one decision or one event will do for us. And we underestimate what we can do if we daily make the process. The secret of your success is held in your daily routine.

Number two, we get tired of the fight. Many times we become pretenders because we just get tired of the fight. In fact, Margaret Thatcher said, "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." And boy, that's so true. Some things just don't go away.

Or number three, we fail to change, and what got you there won't keep you there. And anytime we hold onto something saying, "This is it. I found it," we are now riding a sure fire way to failure. Because change keeps happening in our life. But players finish out. They finish well. Pretenders, they fade out

Mark Cole:       Traci, what a great part that John just left us today. You know, I'm reminded of a Bob Marley quote that says "The greatness of a man," or a woman of course, "is not in how much wealth he or she acquires, but in his or her integrity and in their ability to affect those around them positively." And that's true. I mean, that's what this whole player and pretender thing is. Be a player on the inside, so as you compete and play on the outside, that you really do affect people positively.

We have a saying around here that leaders should be creating positive change, and that's the whole point of this conversation. In fact, what we really want to tell you in this lesson is the world needs the real you, the player, the authentic person.

Traci Morrow:  That's right.

Mark Cole:       The person that you were meant to be. And Traci, I'm going to tell you, I love that you're co-hosting with me today because you are a player. You are that authentic player. Every time I get to do something with you, whether it's travel to a country and do transformation, or whether it's co-host something like this, I love seeing you play the game of your best self.

Traci Morrow:  Well, thank you, mark. I think we established last week that we are all having the balance of having that inner player and inner pretender inside of us. And I'm no different. There's always that part of me, that's wanting to yank out that pretender weed that's growing up inside trying to take away something, and I want to stay on mission. I know our listeners do as well. And John kicks us off.

Last week you ended with something you said to everybody, "You are enough." And I want to add to that because it's true. You are enough. But I know, because people might be saying like, "Yeah, but you don't know, I've got some things I need to work on." Yes, it's true. You and I, we are enough, but we are not done growing. We're enough today to step into that next part of us. And that's where John's talking about integrity versus image.

And I just want to speak to our young leaders out there who are listening, and that's a little bit blowing your mind because you're just stepping into the leadership and you may have thought it was about presenting yourself as a certain way. And last week's lesson may have blown your mind. And I want to just say we are so happy that you are here and learning young, right at the beginning of your leadership journey, the right way so that you don't have to detangle yourself from the weeds of pretending for so long, like some of us have had to do along the way. That you're starting out.

So be encouraged, young leaders. Be encouraged that you are starting out listening to these wise, choice morsels from John and listening and learning from Mark and I as we share how we kind of fumbled it and had to learn our way through. You'll have to learn your way through, but you're at least starting out with some great lessons right at the beginning. Right, Mark? I mean, we're excited for them to start out.

Mark Cole:       Yeah. I do. I love that. You know, I didn't plan this and Jake, I'm so thankful that you guys are so capable in spur of the moment ideas like this, because today we're going to continue to highlight the book. If you're watching on YouTube, the book right over Traci's right shoulder, The Leader's Greatest Return. And if you go in our show notes, there's a link. You can go get 15% off of that by using the keyword podcast. But I want to throw another discount your way called Developing The Leader Within You 2.0. It's actually a book that John wrote its original version before he wrote The Leader's Greatest Return or Developing The Leader Around You.

The reason I do that is because, Traci, number one, what you just said. Players value integrity. Pretenders value image. It's this sixth point. And if you don't get it right, that you've got to be integrous or have integrity with who you are leading from, the person on the inside. If you're not bigger on the inside, you're going to always deal with this posing or pretending that leaders end up doing many times as they mature. Because they started off as a facade, they have to continue that.

And so I want to actually put both books out there for you, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 and the Leader's Greatest Return, because Developing The Leader Within You 2.0 is going to help you with this sixth point that John is talking about. Thanks for sharing that, Traci.

Traci Morrow:  Absolutely. And so, John, again, I want to point you to the bonus resource to print that out because we're going to be following along. And I think it's an important part of really cementing in this lesson and being visual to see it. He finishes out point number six, it's not written in your notes, but I certainly wrote it on mine because it stands out to me. John said, "We travel within before we travel without." And that might be a new concept for you.

Man, I love when he says that, because it just anchors me back to truth. We tend to get out there in behaviors and what we're supposed to be doing, but it anchors us back to, leadership is about first starting inside. It's an inside out job. And leading right into number seven, he talks about hard choices versus pretenders making the soft choices.

And I just want to say many of those hard choices, and I might call them defining choices, are choices that are made in private when you're all by yourself. I mean, some of them are made in a room full of other people when you're making a stand and other people have a different stand, and you're that one lone voice. But the majority of hard choices I've made are in private when nobody is going to give me credit. Nobody is going to see if I make the right decision, or the hard decision, or the soft decision.

You might feel like the reward won't come, and there's that inner pull when you're all by yourself and that decision needs to be made. But I promise you, leader, when you make it a habit, those hard decisions that a player makes in private, they compound. They add up and they show up eventually. The private decisions that you make eventually show up very publicly.

And so if you're in that season of your leadership where you're feeling a little bit like the decisions that you're making in private, sometimes a showy big decision might bring you more accolades, but it doesn't really add to who you are on the inside. So continue to make those internal decisions, those private, hard decisions, because they will eventually compound and show up to become who you actually are becoming, not the image of you.

And so Mark, he gives a decision making list basically, why hard choices are hard to make right there. And so what would you say to those leaders who are leading in hard times like today and they're making the hard, risky choices. They're making those hard, private choices. Speak to that leader who's leading in these well, I'd probably guess leaders would say all times are hard, but these are difficult times. Speak to that leader today.

Mark Cole:       Well, so, I love the statement in your notes. It says, "The problem with the soft choice. We all have the power of choice, but once used our choice has the power over us." And it's human nature, isn't it? I mean, if you're watching, you're kind of smiling. You know that it's human nature to say, "I think I'll take the easier road." And it's hard to train ourself as leaders to constantly go, "Ooh, I guarantee you, the more uphill that road over there is probably the more it's going to lead me where I want to go."

That's why John says that everything worthwhile is uphill. The problem is we have uphill aspirations. We have downhill habits and tendencies. We want the easy road in our tendency, but we want the high road in our aspiration. And yet we stand at the fork in the road, as is in your notes that Yogi Berra says. We stand in the fork in the road and we kind of want to go to the easy route, the downhill coast rather than the uphill climb.

And so I remember it was 2007. Stephanie and I, my wife and I, had been married for about four years now, or going on four years. And I was in this point where John was beginning to put responsibility on me. I wasn't the CEO at the time. I was beginning to be his business manager, and his go-to confidant, consultant on his business and on his fulfillment of his dreams. And man, there was one especially difficult day. I'm sitting at home in my home office. I'm trying to process through the decisions. And as most of our significant others do, they see us in our worst times. They see us in our questioning times. They see us in the times where we're pulling our hair out like Einstein. We're just kind of frayed.

And it was one of those days and I was really trying to figure it out. And that day marked me. In fact, you probably have heard me on the podcast. And Stephanie knew I was downstairs struggling. I had worked with her, talked with her, consulted with her, counseled with her, threatened and to jump off the house together with her. I mean, we were just done. And I'll never forget. She's not really technically inclined. She doesn't even have an appetite. And she came down and she had went upstairs on her computer. And she had created this eight and a half by 11 sheet of paper that for a year sat right in the middle of my desk. Just a taped eight and a half by 11 piece of paper. And here's what it said. It said, "You were made for hard."

That's all the sheet said. It was this big, bold print. Number one, I was very impressed that she had the ability to go up on her computer and make it happen and print it. But two, after I got over, wow, my wife just went to technology school. I then began to soak in that and to realize that every leader. You viewer, you listener, yes, you're made for hard. You're made for hard. This was before John said we've got uphill aspirations and downhill dreams, everything worthwhile is uphill. Before all of that, my wife gave me an eight and a half by 11 piece of paper that said, "Mark Cole, you are made for hard."

My challenge is that I have a tendency for easy. I have a temptation of the easy, but I was made for hard. I can go back to 2007 and then fast forward to 2022, and I can tell you not once, not twice, not dozens, but hundreds of times, I go back to my home office that's not even our home anymore in my mind, and I remind myself, "Mark Cole, you were made for hard." And what I want to say to you, podcast listener, podcast viewer, you were made for hard.

Traci Morrow:  Yes.

Mark Cole:       And so when John comes in and gives this lesson, players make the hard choices, pretenders make the soft choices. I'm just going to challenge you, exercise your muscles to choose the more difficult path, because most of the time, the road less traveled is the road you need to be on. Because leaders are difference makers and leaders are women and men that are committed to take the journey no matter how difficult it is. And I think now more than ever, Traci, we're seeing the need for that.

John did a lesson similar to this players versus pretenders in the first six to eight weeks after the United States was completely shut down with COVID. He was doing these Mondays with Maxwell webcasts.

Traci Morrow:  Yes.

Mark Cole:       And he did this whole concept on how to lead during difficult times. And in that series, he talked about players are the ones that's going to continue to lead all the way through the pandemic, and will still be leading on the other side. But we're going to see a steep drop off in the pretenders. And, Traci, I'm looking at you and I'm going, "I'm still here. Maybe I'm a player. I'm still leading. I'm still going." And I think all of us need to kind of take a moment and go, "Wow, it's good to be still leading in times like these."

Traci Morrow:  That's exactly right. I have to tell you how much I love "You were made for hard." That is something. I have a son who I love how our lives just kind of align. And that message I know is for somebody, for many somebodies who are listening to this. And our stories align with that "You were made for hard." I have a son who has some learning disabilities, and probably out of all six of my kids, he is the hardest worker. My other kids are like gifted educationally, and this kid struggles so much, but he works his tail off. And so many times he would say to me, when he was in sixth grade, "Mom, this is so hard." And I would say, "Son, you were made for hard," and his little face would light up. So it's crazy to me that Stephanie came up with the same thing.

So I would go to his teacher and that became their classroom mantra. She put it up on a sign across the chalkboard, like "You were made for hard." And your addition of, "I have a tendency for easy," that's the human side of it. We all have a tendency for easy. We all have a tendency to be a pretender. Remember this. Nobody is just easily a player. We all have a tendency for easy, but we were all made for hard.

It's not just like Mark Cole was made for hard. We were all made for hard. And we just have to lean into that. And if you have to go home and print out a sign. Learn the computer like Stephanie did and print out your own sign. I want to see it taped. You know, I would love to see that go up. Tag us on social media and see that sign go up and believe it. Choose to believe it. We will lend you our belief until you believe it yourself. You were made for hard.

Okay. Let's move to number eight because there's so much good there. His eighth point was that players finish out versus pretenders fade out. And wow, I love this spin that John put as the seasoned leader who has settled into success, and they've either made the choice or perhaps they didn't make this choice without realizing it. Maybe they were just exhausted and kind of just coasted. They just took their foot off the pedal of the big Mo what John calls, momentum. And maybe they called it a plateau. Maybe they called it just coasting or living the easy life. And maybe they just kind of shelved themselves and are riding out momentum. And it's kind of just slowly fading or trickling out, coasting, drifting, whatever you want to call it.But turning slowly from the player to the pretender. And I know that we have to have some people out there. I know I feel exhausted at times. And that's why it's so important for me to make sure that I stay in that player range, which I love that John kind of shows you that, shows us the list of how not to fade.

But talk to the leader who is listening, who is feeling maybe convicted. They know deep inside there's still gas in the tape. They still know that they're made for more. They still know there's music still left inside of them and that they aren't done, but they're just tired. And they're still counting the cost of like, "Do I reengage and engage in that list that John's talking to us about?"

Mark Cole:       You know, it really struck me, I told you right before we went into the record mode, that second point that he made on number eight. Again, players finish out. Pretenders fade out. That second point is he said we just get tired of the fight. And I was really struck by this. And this is not the way that we will end this podcast, but I do want to take a moment toward the end of this podcast. And I want to recognize that, man, I'm talking to a lot of tired leaders right now. Now I remember saying in the first three months of COVID that I felt like the biggest problem, the biggest effect of the pandemic was not going to be the financial one that we felt at the very beginning. We thought, "Oh my gosh, we're shutting the world down." The finance is going to go to the pot and governments were bailing everybody out all around the world.

We were in a financial crisis. And then the numbers started coming in and the second crisis, in my opinion with COVID was the health crisis. And I, like many of you watching and listening today, I lost very dear people, young people, not just preexisting condition people. I lost people to respiratory issues related to COVID. And I still to this day think about all the people you and I have lost in the last two years. And we truly had a health crisis.

But from early on, I began hearing others and then myself repeating others saying, "I think the biggest crisis of COVID is going to be the mental crisis." The struggle of dealing with leadership during a pandemic, when we already have world leaders that are not good models, where we already have religious leaders that are failing us. There is a leadership deficit, a leadership sadness that John Maxwell articulates. And you put all that into the blender called the pandemic and you come out on the other side and there is just this weariness.

And I think it was in 2020 alone, 1800 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies resigned. Couldn't take it. I'm done. Don't want to lead during this time. I can give you stat after stat. I mean, just the other day, we all know this. It was national news, that the Peloton co-founder and CEO, John Foley. He was to give a financial report to Wall Street on a Tuesday evening, but on Tuesday morning, he came in and fired 2,800 people and then resigned himself before he could even give the financial report.

We're living in a world where, trust me, leadership podcast listener, podcast viewer, you're not the only one. It's a lot of people tired. It's around us. And yet John's saying, "Hey, the player finishes. The player doesn't fade." And for me personally, I mean, let me just go one step further because, okay, Traci, we were just laughing about this. But a month ago I finished recovering from my third infection of COVID. I've had every variant. I'm a COVID magnet. I just did it all. Where's the new variant? I'm going to come look for it.

I've had the vaccinations. I needed vaccinations to travel, do some of my international. I've had vaccinations. I've had boosters and, yes, I've had every variant. And I'll tell you this third time, just about a month ago, the physical effects of it, in fact, they were less than the first two times. The mental haze was just as real. The wanting to sleep for a couple of days straight was real for me. And I'll tell you the biggest problem was not, man, I can't go to work, was not the missed meetings. And I had a bunch of that. The biggest effect to me on this third time was just how mad I got at having COVID again, and having to alter my life, not see my kids for a week, quarantine in my bedroom, and have food delivered to my doorstep.

All of that. And I just got tired, just tired. And I don't know, again, if it's because every single day there is a COVID variant, and I'm not talking about a variant like Omicron or Delta. I'm talking about, there is a variation to doing business because of a COVID reality. Customer service is not what it used to be. Can't get flights, can't get food, supply chain demands. The demands are incredible. And in that 48 hour period, I got tired. My language changed. My outlook changed. It wasn't because our company finances were any worse off or any better off than they were before I got COVID, because actually we're in a really good place. It wasn't that I was having personal relational problems. Things were really good. It's I was just tired.

And I continue to this day. I'm a person of faith as most of you know. I spent a lot of time early morning the last month going, "Where did that weariness come from?" I didn't see that coming. I was just tired. And I'll tell you, it reminded me, Traci, and I'm finishing up on this, but it reminded me of what John Maxwell said last week.

Now I'm going to take you back. To those of you that this is your first podcast, I promise you we won't end everyone with COVID weariness. I promise you. Come back next week. But I will tell you that a player and a pretender have a choice to make. And it goes all the way back to last week. Point number two that John made last week when he said players are mission conscious. Pretenders are position conscious.

And then John went into a three-part description of what he thinks success is. And he said, "Success is, one, knowing my purpose in life. Number two, growing to my maximum potential. And number three, sowing seeds that benefit others." Knowing, growing, sowing. Knowing, growing, sowing. For us to be a player, for you and I to be a player tired or not. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I'm feeling better, but I'm still in the game. You're still in the game. Thousands and thousands of leaders that had the choice to quit or stay are in the game.

Traci Morrow:  That's right.

Mark Cole:       But I'm going to tell you, it's going to come back for you and I, to knowing, growing and sowing. Knowing our purpose, growing our potential, and sowing opportunities that help and benefit others. I'm reminded, because I always love these listener comments, but we had a listener that brought up a comment from the Gold Conscious Versus Growth Conscious podcast that we did some time ago. Oscar. Oscar said, "Reaching goals can be a great short term satisfaction, but without growth, it's meaningless in the long term." You can hit all the goals that you want to, if you're not growing it's not going to last. How do we not succumb to the weariness of the fight? Growth. Knowing growing, sowing.

Hey, that's what this podcast is all about. That's why you keep tuning in. You're not tuning in to see if Traci and I get better. Some of you have given up. That Mark Cole's going to talk Southern the rest of his life. You're tuning in because you know this. I know my purpose is to lead and influence.

Traci Morrow:  That's right.

Mark Cole:       I'm growing my potential because I want to do it better next year than this year. And I am sowing into the lives of others. Help us do that. Pass along this podcast. Pass the link on. Get somebody else to subscribe. Give us a comment. Let us know that together we are knowing, growing and sowing. And until then learn, lead, love. Let's be together next week. But more importantly, go make a difference in your life. Be a player. We'll see you next week.

6 thoughts on “Players vs. Pretenders (Part 2)”

  1. On point 7, there are 4 blank lines under… “Why hard choices are hard to make:”… but I can’t find the answers in the podcast or the transcript. Can you help me fill in these blanks:

    1) The ______ is on the front end; the payoff is on the back end.
    2) Few people gather and affirm the _______ choice
    3) The hard choice _________ includes risk
    4) The hard choice usually places ______ and the organization above itself

    1. Hi Jennie, you can find the answers to the blanks in the answer key on the bottom of the very last page of each of our Bonus Resources. Please let us know if we can assist you with anything else!

  2. “It’s hard to be generous if we are not satisfied by what we have. “ Sooo true. May I add: If we are not grateful to God for our gifts and talents, it is really hard to use it generously to help others.

    From the heart of the Philippines, Iloilo City, good morning. 🤗

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