John Maxwell: Players vs. Pretenders

UPDATED: May 11, 2024
PUBLISHED: July 7, 2011

In every organization there are those who would rather act the part than do their part. I’ve classified these people as pretenders. Pretenders can slow an organization down, steal momentum and damage relationships. They live for themselves. When an organization needs “we” people, the “I” people either change or get exposed.

In order for a pretender to become a player, major changes in personality and thought patterns must take place.

A good friend of mine, Bill Purvis, gave me the idea to do a lesson on this very topic. He once said, “I experienced much more success when I learned to tell the difference between the players and the pretenders.”

Pretenders look the part, talk the part and claim the part, but fall short of fulfilling the part. Let me give you five differences between players and pretenders.

Differences Between Players and Pretenders

1. Players have a servant’s mindset.

Pretenders have a selfish mindset.

Albert Einstein illustrated this point brilliantly:

Strange is our situation here upon Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose.

From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men—above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls, with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.

Einstein realized that he was a debtor to those who had previously gone before him and who had given of themselves to him.

Question: “How can you tell if you have a servant attitude?”

Answer: “By the way you react when you are treated like one.”

2. Players are mission conscious.

Pretenders are position conscious.

Players will give up a position to achieve a mission, and pretenders will give up a mission to achieve a position. They are also worried about what their titles are and where they are on the promotion ladder. Players don’t promote themselves; pretenders, on the other hand, are quick to tell you how valuable they are to the organization and will go on and on about their accomplishments.

3. Players are job-happy—They love what they do and do it well.

Pretenders are job-hunters—They can’t do it where they are, but think they could do it better where they are going. Pretenders always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Pretenders have three things in their lives:

Destination Disease—They think success is always somewhere else.

Someone’s Sickness—They think success is with someone else.

Backslider Blues—They think success today is impossible because of yesterday.

4. Players can deliver the goods.

Pretenders promise the goods.

Author Thomas Sowell says, “We hear about the haves and the have-nots. Why don’t we hear about the doers and the do-nots?”

One of my favorite stories deals with this topic. It’s about an illiterate salesman by the name of Gooch who was sent out by a large company, and the following are some letters he wrote back to the boss:

“Dear boss: I seen this outfit which they ain’t never bought a dime’s worth of nothin from us and I sole them a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of guds. I am now in Chicago.”

The second letter read:

“I come here and sole them half a milyon.”

The president of the company posted these letters on the bulletin board with this note:

“We bin spending too much time here tryin to spel instead of tryin to sel. Let’s watch these sails. I want everybody should read these letters from Gooch who is doing a grate job for us, and you should go out and do like he done.”

Gooch is a player; he knows how to bring home the goods!

5. Players love to see others succeed.

Pretenders are only interested in their own success.

Rabbi Harold Kushner said it best:

The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought into other people’s lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them.

When I graduated from college and started running my first church, I was very competitive. I would find out what other churches were doing and would compare what they were doing with what I was doing. But I evolved beyond being a competitor…

To personal achiever

► To team player

► To team builder

I started out wanting to get an advantage on the other churches; now my greatest joy is raising up and developing leaders. Out of developing them, they have added value to my life and I added value to their lives. If you can get everything accomplished by yourself, your dream is too small. One is too small a number to produce greatness. It’s always been about teamwork.

Players Are Real

Leaders do not try to “perform” for the followers’ benefit. They are open and truthful. They have nothing to hide. Truth really does set you free. You aren’t constantly trying to cover up. Pretending to be real is a lot more exhausting than just being real.

For more advice from John C. Maxwell, visit